The UK Government has announced it will support a further 11 projects in a bid to cut the current £18 billion that reoffending costs taxpayers and help offenders make positive steps toward a life free from crime once they are released from jail.
The Prison Leavers Project states that reintegration into society plays a significant role in former prisoners turning their back on crime and building productive lives. There remains a range of barriers to reintegration including health and substance abuse, housing, purposeful and sustainable employment, supportive personal and community relationship, social stigma and identity, agency and motivation.
There is often crossover with these factors; people struggling with substance abuse may also find it difficult to maintain employment. Similarly social stigma could impact housing opportunities as well as personal and community relationships. Therefore there is a requirement for collaboration across government and all sectors locally and nationally.
What Are The Issues?
One of the most immediate issues facing those leaving prison is homelessness, which in turn increases the likelihood of mental health problems and substance abuse, difficulty finding employment, lack of access to healthcare, and social stigma.
Prisoners are given £47 on average upon their release, with an additional £50 available to be paid directly to an accommodation provider if they do manage to find accommodation for that night. In many parts of the UK, £50 will not cover the price of a room or even a bed in a hostel.
Finding long term, sustainable accommodation is also challenging. Many people wait eight weeks before receiving universal credit payments, and this can be even longer for the accommodation component – for which having a signed lease is often required. Many councils do not see prisoners as a priority for social housing, and those under 35 are only entitled to housing benefit which covers the cost of rent in shared accommodation. For many offenders, this doesn’t provide the stability and security they need to get their lives back on track.
Crime rates, and rates of reoffending are also greatly linked to drug use, with problem drug users much more likely to be found within the criminal justice system (CJS) than within the wider population. Between a third and a half of new receptions to prison are estimated to be problem drug users, and decades of research has shown that prison sentences show limited success in providing an environment for offenders with substance abuse problems to sustainably recover and receive adequate addiction treatment. Rates of re-offending are consistently higher in cases where offenders have been cautioned for drug-related crimes. In 2018/19, 57% of people cautioned for drug offences were re-offenders, compared to 49% cautioned for all crimes.
How Will the Prison Leavers Project Help?
Studies have shown that criminals who leave prison with nowhere to live are about 50% more likely to return. In contrast, people who are employed within a year of their release are up to nine percentage points less likely to commit another crime. As part of the £20 million scheme, local community groups already providing essential support will be provided with funding to increase their capabilities. This includes a scheme which provides employment training and helps reestablish broken family ties.
The Prison Leavers Project has provided part of the £20 million to each of the following charities and community groups:
- Bounce Back works to address reoffending rates in London through the holistic interventions that support Black, Asian, and minority ethnic prison leavers. This work includes culturally appropriate rehabilitation interventions including support in finding and maintaining employment. Bounce Back also directly provides opportunities for employment through providing training in their painting and decorating academy. They also support people in reconnecting with their family and friends – a vital support network for many leaving prison as they try to turn their lives around.
- Catch22 works with young offenders in London, aiming to reduce reoffending through violence reduction interventions and rehabilitation. They provide intervention services in custody, to connect with those still in prison, about to be released, and already released and in the local community. These interventions focus on building strong, consistent, and trusting relationships as well as employment and training to help people make positive changes to their life.
- Change, Grow, Live (Cheshire) aims to reduce crime in Cheshire through the provision of accommodation and support for prison leavers with substance misuse needs.
- Change, Grow, Live (Midlands) works to address reoffending in the West Midlands, by offering young prison leavers with experience of the care system individualised training. This focuses on increasing individuals’ ability to live independently, as part of a community network.
- The Innovation Unit works by reducing rates of reoffending in the West Midlands through support networks for young prison leavers with experience of the care system. The innovation unit helps offenders to plan their resettlement for when they leave prison with the aim of living independently and building a support network.
- NEPACS works in County Durham with young male prison leavers who have experience of the care system. NEPACS ensures that their interventions are trauma-informed and focus on managing independent living and literacy skills.
- New Futures Network/Antz Junction works in the North West of England to reduce reoffending by increasing access training, employment opportunities, and making ongoing support accessible for people living in prison. They have an innovative scheme that creates real work environments within prisons and connects prison leavers with local employers.
- Llamau focuses on addressing and tackling homelessness, general community engagement, and individualised work on improving family relationships through interventions for young men in Wales.
- St Giles Trust provides support in Yorkshire for prison leavers with complex needs who are released on Friday, when a lot of services are closed.
What Are The Drawbacks?
While the funding made available to local groups tackling the barriers that prison-leavers face, particularly those related to drug abuse, is a step in the right direction, there is a lack of recognition of the need for more structural change within the prison system, housing, and healthcare.
Individuals who have been in the care system, experienced homelessness, grown up with adverse childhood experiences or trauma are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, and to enter the prison system. A number of community groups have also brought attention to the need for funding of schemes for young people struggling to access the support they need as minors as an important part of tackling drug-related re-offending head on.