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Don’t offshore our responsibility for prisoners, says Bishop of Gloucester

05 October 2023


The Justice Secretary, Alex Chalk, addresses the Conservative Party Conference, on Tuesday

The Justice Secretary, Alex Chalk, addresses the Conservative Party Conference, on Tuesday

THE Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, has criticised government plans to send prisoners overseas as likely to hinder rehabilitation.

In a speech to the Conservative Party Conference on Tuesday, the Justice Secretary, Alex Chalk, announced that the Government intended “to look at the Norwegian example and explore renting overseas capacity”, as a means of tackling overcrowding in prisons. He also said that the Government was “rolling out the largest prison-expansion programme since the Victorian era”.

Bishop Treweek, the Church of England’s lead bishop for prisons, expressed dismay at plans to send prisoners overseas, and said that the “crisis in our prison system . . . was entirely avoidable.”

She continued: “For too long we have seen increased sentence lengths combined with unacceptable numbers of people being held in prison on remand. Instead of investing in alternatives to prison for non-violent offences, the Government has pledged to create more prison places, and we now know these will not come soon enough.

“Placing prisoners overseas will have a serious impact on their contact with family, their rehabilitation and resettlement. I believe our humanity and flourishing is rooted in relationship, and we cannot offshore our rehabilitation responsibilities.”

In an article for the Church Times website to mark Prisons Week, which begins on Sunday, Bishop Treweek, considers further the problem of prison overcrowding. She writes that the escape last month of Daniel Khalife from HM Prison Wandsworth (Comment, 15 September) resulted in “answers being demanded about how the prison could possibly have allowed this to happen”.

She welcomes a debate about prison numbers and overcrowding, but warns against “simplistic answers about needing to build additional prisons and create more prison places and possibly even send prisoners to cells overseas.

“It is not the capacity of our prisons which is too small, but, rather, our diminished ability to think long-term.”

She writes that she rejects “the popular message that our streets and communities will be safer if we lock up more people and make sentences longer. That’s not just because, as a Christian, I believe in hope, redemption, and transformation — but also because the evidence and data don’t support the narrative.”

The number of people sentenced to more than ten years in prison has more than doubled in a decade, she writes, and half of those who leave custody go on to reoffend within a year of their release.

“So much more transformation and reduction in reoffending could take place for so many people within good community alternatives to prison, and by looking for the underlying issues of offending. This requires imagination and a commitment to investing the money differently.”


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