Bishop of Gloucester speaks in a debate on crime and rehabilitation

The Bishop of Gloucester spoke in a debate on crime, reoffending and rehabilitation on 30th June 2022:

The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for introducing this debate. His work is inspiring; I want to say “yes” to all that he has said and am sorry that I have only six minutes. I too welcome the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, and look forward to his maiden speech. I refer to my interests stated in the register as Anglican Bishop to Prisons and president of the Nelson Trust. Last week, I visited HMP Wakefield. In reflecting with the governor on long sentences, he said that he had asked a group of prisoners whether, if they had known the tariff for their crime, it would have been a deterrent. For all but one, the answer was no. Most crimes are rarely planned in a calculated way.

Earlier this month, the Independent Commission into the Experience of Victims and Long-Term Prisoners published a report with a comprehensive set of recommendations, holding together for the first time the perspectives of the offender and the victim. The report highlighted that the number of people in England and Wales given a prison sentence of more than 10 years has more than doubled in a decade, at an ever greater cost. Where is the evidence that greater severity equates to greater deterrence, or a safer society? We need to curb the unhelpful and inaccurate rhetoric about keeping the public safer through longer, tougher sentencing. What matters more than longer and longer sentences is how people are spending their time while in prison, in terms of not only education and purposeful work but meaningful interventions which prevent reoffending and someone else becoming another victim. Holding together justice and restoration is central to Christian theology; I believe it is vital for us to rediscover how those two dwell side by side.

As has been said, at the opposite end to long sentences are short sentences. These too are often not the answer. From my work with the Nelson Trust and women’s centres, as have been mentioned, I know the value of community sentences, police diversion schemes and other non-custodial interventions. Holistic intervention in the community for women, men and children can often address the root causes of offending, including drug and substance abuse. We know that offenders are often people of multiple disadvantage, and tackling those drivers to offending is key.

We also know that if men and women are to cease from reoffending, they need purposeful work, strong relationships, addiction intervention and a home. A project I have advocated for in the diocese of Gloucester is the prisoners building homes programme. These prisoners are working with a modular housing provider to build low-carbon, modular homes for local communities and vulnerable people across the south-west, hopefully including for prison leavers. The prisoners are acquiring skills for future employment. I would love to see more projects like this, but it will take significant cross-departmental and interdepartmental working and the will to think outside the box when commissioning or securing funding.

A recent IMB report on HMP Bronzefield found that 65% of women face homelessness on release. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to continue to engage on this issue in a meaningful, interdepartmental way and with a gendered approach.

Turning to the voluntary sector, the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, has highlighted the importance of relationship. As a Lord spiritual, this is not a surprise. Restored relationship sits at the heart of Christian belief, and I am glad that the noble Lord has highlighted the importance of chaplaincy, paid and voluntary, in prison and beyond the gate. Relationship sits at the heart of so much of the work of the voluntary sector, supporting the charity sector in a commitment to the flourishing of individuals and communities, not least with prison leavers.

We have many examples in the faith-based sector, such as the Welcome Directory, which signposts prison leavers to worshipping communities of all faiths to find a place of welcome and community. There is also the Prison Advice and Care Trust, PACT, which has volunteers and staff in courts, prisons, probation services and the wider community. There are so many local and national initiatives with stories to tell of transformed lives. People in the charitable and voluntary sector stand ready to be part of the solution, but it needs the Government to intentionally work with them and tap into their considerable experience, wisdom and insights.

Returning to the overall focus of today’s debate, I would argue that sustainably funded community intervention and purposeful rehabilitation in prison and beyond the gate need not carry a high financial increase if we realign the funding, stop a focus on more prison places and address the pervasive issue of more and longer sentences which are failing both victims and prisoners.

I urge noble Lords to join me in pushing for a national debate informed not by the occasional sensational Daily Mail headline but by evidence, so that we can turn the tide for the sake of our overcrowded prisons and for real justice for victims of crime, so that reoffending is tackled effectively once and for all. I invite the Minister to meet with me and those behind the independent commission to reflect further. It is of course easier to file all this in the “too difficult” drawer and continue to focus on lengthening sentences and building more prisons. But I hope for a better way, and I look forward to the rest of today’s debate.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Lord German (LD): The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester invited us to have a national debate. The source of the issues that it might cover have been laid out today. When the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, opened this debate, he focused on the causes of crime, and it is not often that we would have such a debate right at the heart of these matters. The House has today focused on those causes, whether they be alcohol, drugs, poverty, poor education and background, and so forth. We have also heard about the injustice of IPP sentences. That is something which I think this House will not allow any Minister to forget.

(….) One thread from this debate has been the need to build a seamless line of support for offenders through the prison gate. That should start from sentencing. Judges and those sentencing can be encouraged to outline the nature of any support required having sat through the case on which a custodial sentence is determined, but of course prison should be not the automatic choice anyway. There is now widespread evidence, as evidenced by my noble friend Lady Burt, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, that short prison sentences do not lead to better outcomes in rehabilitation, and particularly for women they can be irreparably damaging to family links and bonds. The number of women in custody has fallen since 2010, but the statistics predict an increase in the coming few years, especially as the courts backlog is cleared. Custodial sentences for women should be the very last option, as my noble friend Lady Burt and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab): However, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester about the importance of women’s centres. They are a very important element in trying to stop women reoffending. It is worth quoting the Chief Inspector of Probation, who has described the probation service as being “in survival mode” due to staff shortages. Can the Minister say anything about the recruitment activities of the probation service? To make community sentences work as they surely must, we need to reinvigorate community sentences and the probation service.

Lord Bellamy (Con): Many other issues have been raised: I think of older pensioners and alcohol abuse; I think of rape and youth justice. All those things are extremely important but I would like to concentrate today on the main themes of the rehabilitation of prisoners, what the ministry and the Government are trying to do about it, and where we are going. I readily recognise that this is a difficult and intractable subject that many of us have been thinking about and discussing for years and years, but perhaps your Lordships will arrive at the conclusion that, at long last, we are really beginning to come to grips with the detail of the problem. Your Lordships have already heard mention during the debate of some encouraging matters: the new centre in Swansea, the New Futures Network mentioned earlier, the work initiatives mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, and other matters.

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