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Tougher sentences ‘not the answer’ to reoffending, says Bishop Treweek

04 July 2022


An aerial view of HM Prison Wakefield, in West Yorkshire

An aerial view of HM Prison Wakefield, in West Yorkshire

THE Government’s focus on longer prison sentences for offenders is misguided and driven more by sensationalist headlines than by evidence, the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, has said.

Speaking during a debate on crime, reoffending, and rehabilitation in the House of Lords late last week, Bishop Treweek, the lead bishop for prisons, referred to a recent report in which it was said that the number of offenders in England and Wales who had been given a prison sentence of more than ten years had doubled over the past decade. This was at an increasing cost to the taxpayer, she said.

“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.”

Rehabilitation was more effective, she said. “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.”

Recalling a recent visit to HM Prison Wakefield, she said that prisoners who had spoken to her had said that knowing the tariff for their crime had not deterred them from committing the offence, she said.

Short sentences, however, were not the answer, either; and non-custodial interventions needed to be found in the community. “We also know that if men and women are to cease from reoffending, they need purposeful work, strong relationships, addiction intervention, and a home.”

About 12,000 people a year are released from prison without somewhere to live.

Bishop Treweek went on to praise a scheme in Gloucestershire, in which prisoners were being taught modern construction skills to build low-carbon “eco pod” community homes for vulnerable people, including prison leavers. The diocese has pledged to buy six pods once suitable land has been identified.

“I would love to see more projects like this, but it will take significant cross-departmental and inter-departmental workingm and the will to think outside the box when commissioning or securing funding.”

The Bishop urged the Government to work with the voluntary and charitable sector, including faith organisations, who wanted to be part of the “solution”, and called 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”.

Responding on behalf of the Government, Lord Bellamy said that the number of reoffenders had halved in the past decade, but that those who did reoffend were doing so more often. The Government was “on the case” on rehabilitation and reoffending, he said, and had invested in a similar community-accommodation service to ensure that no one should leave prison without a home to go to.

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