The Rt Rev Rachel Treweek is the Bishop for HM’s Prisons in England and Wales – the representative for the Church of England on prison matters. She is also the Bishop of Gloucester and sits in the House of Lords.

It is a great privilege to be Bishop for HM’s Prisons in England and Wales. I spend a lot of my time engaging with issues in the House of Lords. It’s important to look at the big picture and that’s one of the things I keep coming back to: we need a root-and-branch reform of the criminal justice system that addresses why people offend as well as what are the best ways to rehabilitate and prevent reoffending.

During the pandemic I’ve used my position to highlight the great pressure on prison staff, for example, asking for priority vaccinations. All those working in prisons rightly expect to be protected from harm and to carry out their duties with dignity. I am aware through speaking regularly to prison chaplains and visiting prisons when I can that the pandemic has made working in prisons extremely challenging at times.

Before I took on the national remit for prisons within the Church of England, I focussed on women in the criminal justice system. Looking at women’s centres and organisations such as The Nelson Trust it’s really clear to me that we should tackle the root causes and drivers of offending, such as domestic abuse and substance misuse. Locking people up for repeated short sentences for non-violent offences is not going to address those issues, whereas we know, for example, that women’s centres can work in a holistic way with women, as they listen to the story to reach deeper issues. We talk about the trauma-informed approach that asks: “What happened to you? What’s in your story?”

I’m passionate, too, about getting things right for men in the criminal justice system and most recently visited HMP Bullingdon. When I visit prisons, I’m keen to get the message across that there’s always another chapter of someone’s life that can be written. Prisons encounter people at critical moments in their lives. Their work can transform lives – not just for individuals but for whole communities. I am a proud Patron of the Prison Fellowship, whose motto is “no-one is beyond hope”.

As well as engaging with many different charities and organisations, one of the great privileges of my role is supporting the network of Anglican Prison Chaplains who share in the front-line care of prisoners.

During Covid-19, the one external group of people who’ve been able to go into prisons has been the Chaplains. Governors have said to me that, without our chaplains, the wellbeing of our prisoners wouldn’t be what it is. Chaplains really work as a team in most places. They’re there to support all those who live and work in prisons, across all faiths. Working across faiths and between denominations is really important.

I also work with people seeking to develop and strengthen faith links beyond the gate, including probation and community services. I am delighted to be a patron of the Welcome Directory, which helps faith communities become places where people who leave prison find acceptance.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I believe that our humanity and flourishing is rooted in relationship. Where healing and rehabilitation take place, it comes from a place of care and trust within relationship. Prisons that are dangerous for staff are dangerous for prisoners, too, and disrupt the essential task of rehabilitation, so we need to get that right to begin to address the underlying reasons of offending.

In all my interactions with the criminal justice system, I am struck by the commitment and determination of people working and striving for a better society. That work is often hidden, and part of my role is to bring this into the light. This is about all of us and the sort of world we want to inhabit.

Representing over 30,000 Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers, the POA is the largest UK Union in this sector, able to trace its roots back more than 100 years.