Prison chaplains from 30 countries have expressed "alarm at the continuing growth in prison populations in many European countries."

The chaplains, attending an international meeting in The Netherlands last month, called on European governments to prioritize prisoner resettlement schemes, which provide advice, training and support to prepare offenders for their return to the community after release from prison.

The chaplains also urged everyone involved in criminal justice systems in the region to "examine anew the use of custody as a punishment."

About 120 Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox chaplains attended the European conference of the International Prison Chaplains Association (IPCA), held from May 8 to 13 in Driebergen. The association holds pan-European conferences every three to four years.

In a statement approved at the end of the conference, the chaplains declared that increased use of custody was being "subtly justified" by many governments through "offending behavior" programs, which impose mandatory prison sentences for those found guilty of a fixed number of crimes. "Resettlement programs which include work placement and adequate accommodation may ultimately be more successful in addressing the needs of ex-offenders."

Resettlement schemes offered prisoners "realistic possibilities to lead a new way of life in a spirit of hope," the chaplains said.

The chaplains voiced support for "the principles and practice of restorative justice" as an alternative to the punitive discipline of imprisonment. Restorative justice encourages offenders to face up to the consequences of their crime and requires them to make amendments to their victim and the wider community.

The concept of restorative justice was "gradually gaining ...

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