Bishop of Gloucester highlights need for meaningful path away from offending

On the 6th of September 2018 Lord Bird asked Her Majesty’s Government “what plans they have to ensure that prisons and young offender institutions are safe and able to meet the rehabilitative needs of those imprisoned.” The Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester, asked a follow up question focusing on community-based sentences and rehabilitation involving meaningful work.

Bishop of Gloucester 8The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for bringing this important debate today. It is encouraging to see some new energy in the Ministry of Justice, and some recent government announcements have been very encouraging, not least the female offender strategy. However, as has been said, it is important to acknowledge that so often prison will not be able to meet the rehabilitative needs of the people who are sent there. Many women are often in prison for only a few weeks and very often this exacerbates other issues, not least that of children separated from mothers, while also not enabling any meaningful work or rehabilitation to be engaged with. Alternative provision for vulnerable people must be available, well funded and trusted by those making sentencing decisions. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Vere of Norbiton, will be able to assure me that the Government will make a long-term commitment to funding community-based solutions, both for vulnerable people at risk of offending and for individuals who would be better served by community-based sentences.

I turn to the issue of those serving prison sentences. Safety and rehabilitation do not operate independently; they are mutually reinforcing. Problems with security and drugs are fuelled and exacerbated by boredom and frustration. Purposeful activity and meaningful work are not just essential to the broader goal of rehabilitation, they are necessary for the safe and effective operation of a prison. The Government’s recent announcements on security and training for staff are encouraging, but I fear that they have overlooked a key element, and that is hope. Meaningful activity is important—indeed, essential—because it provides hope: hope that today will bring something more engaging than the sight of a cell door; hope that this week may contain something more interesting, the possibility of building something good for the future; hope that, over the arc of a sentence, there will be an opportunity for key issues to be addressed; a meaningful path away from offending.

I am delighted that women’s prisons have now adopted a trauma-informed approach. At HMP Eastwood Park, in my diocese, prison officer numbers are being boosted, under the offender management in custody initiative, in order to implement key workers, which will allow more work directly with women. What cause do prisoners have for hope? Can the noble Baroness assure me that resources for appropriate rehabilitative engagement and meaningful work will be a cornerstone of the Government’s plans? Though it is coming from a bishop’s mouth, hope here is not an intangible concept or even a faith-based one: it is a very practical, on-the-ground concern about how prisoners approach and experience their sentences. It is a concern about rampant drug use and self-harm. Hope gives the motivation to be constructive rather than destructive. The Secretary of State has promised a new vision for prisons, which I hope will give each person in custody hope and a vision for their sentence.


Lord Marks of Henley-on -Thames (Libdem):…We have failed to increase the involvement of the voluntary sector and what we must now do, I suggest, is to increase co-ordination between the prison and probation services, but not by renationalising all CRCs. It is outcomes that count, not ownership. Prison services, the youth justice system, all the probation services and the voluntary sector must work far more closely together, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, argued. All noble Lords have concentrated on rehabilitation, with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester expressing that in terms of hope. Rehabilitation saves money, as the noble Lord, Lord Bird, said, but much more importantly it turns around lives.​[extract]

Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con):…Turning first to safety across the adult estate, particularly in male prisons, our first duty is to keep our staff and the people in our custody safe. To do this, we need to provide full and supportive regimes in a calm and civil environment. I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester that perhaps there might even be a culture of hope. At the heart of this is the relationship between staff and prisoners. Prison officers must have the time and skills to support and incentivise the right behaviour, and to challenge and disincentivise poor behaviour. The second key factor is the availability of drugs, including new psychoactive substances, in our prisons.[extract]

Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone (Con):… I also have to make the link to our previous debate in which we discussed prisons and some of the severe problems in them. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester talked about giving people in prison a sense of hope. Of course there is no greater sense of hope for anyone in the prison institutions than the sense that there will be employment and opportunity in the future. I have worked closely with Working Chance, a wonderful initiative to help women in prison get work experience and job training so that when they leave the prison they can rebuild their lives and have active employment. Obviously, we are talking about schools, colleges and universities, but this initiative is so important for all sectors of our society.[extract]