International law firm Baker McKenzie and charity Catch22 are collaborating to offer support to prisoners at HMP Thameside. In today’s blog, Milly Harrison, Partnerships and Grants Coordinator for Catch22, talks about why this has never been more necessary.
In order to thrive in the community, Catch22 believes everyone needs a good place to live, a purpose and good people around them. We run the resettlement services at HMP Thameside and while we aren’t running the accommodation services, we want to do everything we can to enhance our support for prisoners to get these things in place prior to their release.
With our support, Baker McKenzie lawyers will be delivering a series of workshops to prisoners who are due for release throughout 2020. Starting with housing rights, the workshops will also be focusing on financial management and employment rights.
The housing crisis
For prisoner rehabilitation, stable accommodation is crucial. Re-offending can be a means to avoid homelessness and having stable accommodation can reduce the re-offending risk by 20%.
Those leaving prison are at high risk of homelessness; when entering custody, individuals often lose their accommodation, or they may have been homeless before custody. And too often they face uncertainty and confusion over social housing and their rights.
A report by The Guardian revealed that between April and June 2018, more than 600 offenders serving sentences of less than six months slept rough immediately after they were released from prison. Another 900 were released into temporary accommodation provided by the local authority, such as a hostel, night shelter or B&B. And a further 1,400 were considered ‘hidden homeless’, meaning they are completely reliant on staying with a friend or family member long-term.
More provision is needed nationwide to ensure a smooth transition into appropriate, long-term housing.
The first session on housing began with a brief outline of private tenancies, explaining private tenancy agreements, knowing your rights as a tenant, and the path to raising a dispute.
With local authorities finding it increasingly difficult to get people into social housing, the need for this guidance is higher than ever. As Councils turn to private providers to supply temporary accommodation, it is harder to regulate the conditions people are placed in.
At the workshop, the Baker McKenzie team offered guidance to those who had faced these issues in the past, with both councils and landlords.
One of the workshop participants had an issue with the poor living conditions of his flat, which he was due to move back in to upon release. The team initially discussed the landlord’s health and safety obligations and directed the prisoner to the right support should the landlord fail to comply with these responsibilities in future. By empowering this individual to work productively with his landlord in future, he will have a better chance of maintaining a stable living situation on release.
The second half of the session focused on social housing, looking at housing benefits and universal credit. Two people in the room were due to be released the following week and were unsure of what materials and documentation was needed at their housing appointment with the council. The team provided the individual with the relevant information leaving them reassured and confident to attend their appointment.
Catch22 supports and empowers people to rebuild their lives, from opening a bank account to finding a fulfilling job. These steps are hugely important in giving someone real opportunities to find their place in society.
Staś Kuźmierkiewicz, Pro Bono Associate at Baker McKenzie said:
“Our relationship with Catch22 has given our lawyers the opportunity to use their skills and knowledge in a completely new environment and help those leaving prison and looking to re-establish themselves in the community.
“A lack of knowledge around legal entitlements can be a major obstacle to accessing key services, and we hope that these sessions will give the attendees the confidence and understanding needed to assert their rights.”
The collaboration between Catch22 and Baker McKenzie enhances our existing resettlement service and will ultimately support people in their road to rehabilitation. We are thrilled to welcome the dedicated volunteers from Baker McKenzie and we look forward to seeing the continued delivery of this programme throughout 2020.