Bishop Rachel speaks in General Synod, on sentencing and rehabilitation

Published: Monday July 10, 2023

Speaking as Anglican Bishop for Prisons, Bishop Rachel spoke in General Synod on GS2294A; a motion from Worcester, on the Contribution of faith to the Rehabilitation of Offenders.
Read the full motion here

Watch Bishop Rachel’s speech:

Full text of Bishop Rachel’s speech:

The familiar narrative fed by the media is that our streets will be safer if more perpetrators of crime are imprisoned, and for longer. The data does not support this.

Our prison population is probably now the highest in western Europe; and nearly half of those leaving prison go on to reoffend within a year of their release. Approximately two thirds of prisoners are in prison for a non-violent offence linked to poverty, addiction and trauma. We are failing to address the upstream underlying causes of offending and reoffending… Short term policy is not serving offenders OR victims well, and is certainly not making for stronger communities. And this is not about ‘they’ but ‘us’.

Each year approximately 17,000 children are separated from their mother who is in prison, mainly for non-violent offences. Over 60% of those women have experienced abuse. Did you know that over half of the children being held for offending, are those who have been in care? Did you know that low levels of literacy are 4 times higher in prisons, or that 42% of prisoners were those expelled or permanently excluded from school?

None of this is good news. However, as the Church we can be good news – and I am ambitious for the Church to be at the forefront of criminal justice reform – just as we have been in the past, not least with the establishment of the probation service. People beat a path to my door with many things they want to say. No one has beaten a path to my door to decry why we are not doing more for perpetrators or victims of crime. Why not, if the Gospel good news with Jesus Christ at the heart is that of love, hope, reconciliation and transformation?

God’s mission is to reconcile the world such that all will be made new and perfect relationship will be restored. And if we pray for ‘God’s kingdom to come’, and ‘God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven’, then we have a responsibility to join in. As people made in the image of God we have been given responsibility towards one another and creation. Of course this has implications for offenders – It also has implications for our justice system; and for who we are as the Church.

This motion from Worcester is a response to that responsibility. Much of what Christians and churches are doing and being which builds healthy relationships and community, is already reducing the drivers of offending e.g. Spaces for families, toddler groups, our schools … or coming alongside those who are hungry …

And then there is the need for overt support for those who have offended or are at risk of offending. Of course, that must go hand in hand with listening and caring for victims of crime too. We need a holistic approach in everything.
This includes partnership with our probation service … and our amazing prison chaplains. When people leave prison, our chaplains play a key role in trying to pass on the baton. This is where this motion comes in. I was deeply shocked on a recent prison visit when a chaplain told me that she had been unable to find a church willing to meet someone at the prison gate who wanted to be connected to a local church. How are we offering people welcome, value, belonging, meaningful relationship, purposeful activity? … All those things which we know are key factors in reducing reoffending. The Welcome Directory signposts prison-leavers to faith communities simply willing to offer a welcome. It has a woefully low number of Anglican churches registered.

Of course many Christians, including people here, are already working within the criminal justice system, whether professionally or as a volunteer; and churches are doing some amazing things. Yet, I’m grateful for this motion challenging us to be more imaginative and more connected with the probation service. Relationship is at the heart of this motion in every way.

I am delighted to be working with probation at a national level and proud of the links being developed across the regions. May we put on record our thanks to the Chief Probation Officer for keeping a focus on faith – and to Kashmir Garton in her role – And then may we commit to taking up our responsibilities and step into the opportunities being given to us.

This motion is about joining in with God’s work of reconciliation and transformation, and I wholeheartedly support it.

8 July 2023 Rachel Treweek
Bishop of Gloucester and Anglican Bishop for Prisons

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