Back in January, 22 people ranging from frontline staff, GMCA officers, experts and people with lived experience attended and participated in the GMHAN Prison and Resettlement Open space meeting. The meeting had been requested to explore and discuss the challenges and issues connecting homelessness with prison releases and resettlement. To ensure this topic was kept at the forefront of people’s minds, Rob Rowe, Service Manager at The Sanctuary Trust shared some of the challenges people face when they leave prison at our second UK Network Event in April. The aim of his presentation was to start an open dialogue and to ask some questions on behalf of a cohort who don’t currently have a voice. All opinions expressed are based on experience of the prison system in Greater Manchester only.
In 2018, The Office for National Statistics published a report on proven reoffending for adult and juvenile offenders. The report states that juvenile offenders had a proven reoffending rate of 40.4% and adults had a proven reoffending rate of 64.5% (source). These are some grueling statistics, but sadly understandable considering the lack of support people receive when they leave prison.
Leading up to a person leaving prison, there appears to be no link between probation services and external agencies who offer support to prison leavers. Upon the day of release, there is little to no support given; they are given no ID, no bank account, no support with setting up benefits and no housing on the day. They are also expected to visit probation, liaise with local housing and in many cases, connect with the Community Drug Team (CDT). There is no clear understanding of who is doing what or what support is available to them. In many cases, prison leavers have unresolved trauma resulting in poor mental health which is overlooked, making them vulnerable to further issues. Oftentimes, a person will walk straight out of prison, onto the streets, resulting in them becoming homeless and offending again, perpetuating the same prison cycle.
One may think that there is a lack of funds to help prison leavers, but this is not the case. There appears to be lots of funding available, but very little is put into place for prison leavers in most cases. Every prison leaver with no accommodation on release has been able to access a COVID response provision of £2,400, which potentially could be used for a B&B, private rent, bonds and deposits. It’s proven that someone who has a roof over their head and is linked up with support services is more likely to rebuild their life in a quicker time frame compared to people experiencing street homelessness. There are cases in which supported accommodation or hostels are provided to prison leavers, but they often share the space with other prison leavers who also have little to no support. There is an expectation for these individuals to change, but they are put into an environment where there is little or no change. This is an unsustainable model which is calling to be transformed for the better.
Rob asked a poignant question to the group; “Where is the facilitation to empower these people to start the cycle of change?” In answer to his own question, Rob said there is little cohesion and collaboration services and suggested a Multiple Disciplinary Team (MDT) approach is needed for prison leavers. This is where a group of professionals meet to discuss where an individual is in their journey, any risks they may pose to themselves and others, and what steps could be made to help that individual succeed in life. In order to empower prison leavers to start the cycle of change, professionals supporting these individuals need to be more accountable so partners know who is doing what.
Unfortunately, there are some professionals within the system that have a ‘revolving door’ attitude. This is the belief that the prison leaver will be back in a few months so there is no point in supporting them to change their life around. Clearly, this is the wrong attitude to have and is a contributing factor as to why people reoffend. When we take the time to believe in someone and create opportunities they may not have had before, we give them a lifeline and provide hope they can rebuild a brighter life for themselves. On the other side of the coin, there are many professionals who do want to help prison leavers, but their capacity is full with supporting individuals currently in prison. The fact that there is a desire from within the system to support prison leavers means there are opportunities for changing the way the current model works.
The 2018 – 2023 Manchester Homeless Strategy states that homelessness prevention can be increased by “making sure people are not discharged from one service, for example prisons, mental-health services or hospitals, directly onto the street.” This is a very powerful statement and could happen in all cases of prison leavers, however, with the current aftercare model in place, this statement is not being met. As it stands, services are being commissioned to do things with no accountability and if this continues, we are likely to be in the same position at the end of the Great Manchester Homeless Strategy as we are now. Rob asks the question: “what are we going to do now?” Again, in answer to his own question, he says “I don’t think we’re accepting the challenges and the understanding of what this statement actually entails to make it a reality.”
The homelessness sector currently has no duty to support prison leavers and unless there are specific organisations supporting this group, prison leavers will continue to be forgotten about. There are massive resources and funds available but no cohesion, collaboration or accountability. Everything needed to support prison leavers is there, but there is no link. Rob tells us what can be achieved when professionals within the system have faith in a prison leaver and takes accountability for them. Rob connects with individuals in prison six weeks prior to their release. He schedules a weekly call with them to establish and foster a relationship with them and in his own time, he picks them up from prison so they have support on the day of their release. An individual he recently supported had been in and out of prison for 10 years. Not having received any support during that time was a contributing factor to why this person continued to reoffend. Through Rob connecting with them and putting a little more time and effort with the individual upon his release from prison, the person was able to secure accommodation and connect with the services needed to help them rebuild their life, therefore hopefully ending the prison cycle. Rob tells us excitedly, “if you build a relationship with prisons before they are released, it is a win-win situation for all!”
Soraya, our UK Network Coordinator used to work at Manchester based Mustard Tree. She coordinated the Freedom Project; a training programme where vulnerable adults can learn new skills, find work and overcome barriers. During her appointment, she established a relationship with a local prison and began giving presentations about Mustard Tree and the Freedom Project to those coming up to their release from prison. Many of the prison leavers connected with Mustard Tree upon their release, getting the support they needed to not reoffend and turn their lives around. Once again, proving that when we think ahead and provide opportunities for prison leavers, we are able to make a difference in their lives and those around them.
Now the conversation has been started, Rob would love to hear if others have any ideas of how more care and support can be given to prison leavers. Perhaps there is an opportunity for a new role such as Prison Leaver Coordinator to be created in which they are assigned a caseload of individuals to support? Might there be funding in the pot for this role to be set up? If you have any ideas or suggestions, please contact Rob via firstname.lastname@example.org to continue the conversation. Rob will also keep us in the loop and we will share suggestions and best practice with the Network.