LONDON, DEC. 13, 2004 ( Prisons are failing both offenders and victims, says the Catholic bishops' conference of England and Wales in a report that calls for radical reforms.

The episcopate called for a fundamental change of approach in penal policy the report published by its Department of Christian Responsibility & Citizenship.

Entitled "A Place of Redemption," the 115-page report was presented last week at Brixton Prison to Prison Minister Paul Goggins by the archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.

The report calls for fundamental reforms in penal policy, describes the state of the nation's prisons as a "scandal," and states that funds are used to extend, rather than improve, the prison system.

Prisons are overcrowded and offer inmates scant opportunities of education and work, the report said. Two-thirds of offenders re-offend within two years of their release, it noted.

"For too long there has been a tendency to consider prison as the ultimate backstop for all society's problems. This must stop," the report states. "Prison must not be a dustbin for the problems that society fails to address elsewhere."

There must also be a change of attitudes, reflecting the "Christian understanding of the purpose of punishment" which cannot be "purely punitive or deterrent," but should be "reformative and rehabilitative," the report adds. It appeals to the Catholic community to be more involved in prisons as volunteers.

The report also recommends the development of a prison system that offers better education, better treatment for drug addicts, and better mental health care for the large percentage of prisoners suffering from mental health problems.