With reoffending rates alarmingly high and costing society over £18 billion a year in the UK, helping prison leavers to successfully re-integrate into our communities is an urgent need.
There are certain pathways which we already know are essential for helping offenders’ transition successfully into the community on release from custody – from family and finance to addressing substance misuse issues and housing. Often people are released from custody with un-resolved issues in these pathways, which can be detrimental on their ability to contribute to society and to thrive. This requires these individuals to have good people around them, a safe place to live, and a purpose in life.
In the first episode of the Justice season of our Catch22Minutes podcast, host Josie Cochrane explores how and why successful re-integration reduces the chances of reoffending. Why is successful re-integration into the community so important for prison leavers and society? What are the societal challenges? What support do we know is already working?
Joining the episode is Noel is from Penal Reform Solutions and Jacob from Offploy – a recruitment network supporting those with criminal convictions into meaningful work. Noel and Jacob are committed to improving the life outcomes for those trying to restart their lives in the community, with Offploy having already placed more than 580 people with criminal convictions into sustainable, long-term employment.
The episode opens with insight from a recent service user of Catch22, who left prison late last year:
“The challenges you face leaving prison are housing, money, getting a job, your mental health. They ask if you have a place to go to and you think, well, I think I do. You know, but you’re never quite sure. You feel fragile. The thing is that the support is there in some ways, but you need to be mentally positive and engaged – that could be hard if you become institutionalised.”
Challenges for prisoners
For many people leaving prison, they re-enter the community alone, with Jacob describing it as “going from absolute dependence on the state to figuring out everything on their own.” Housing, mental health, and finances are great challenges for those leaving prison, before employment is even a consideration. And as Noel highlights, some of the simplest things in our modern society can be difficult after many years in prison, for example using a self-checkout in a supermarket. The struggle to adapt can contribute to returning to a life of crime.
To tackle the challenges faced by prison leavers, Noel and Jacob discuss some of the solutions they’ve been implementing and what needs to be done. The challenges often revolve around commissioning models, and the focus on “competition” over collaboration.
In the initial stage of leaving prison, Jacob says there needs to be certainty about the next steps when leaving prison and a clear pathway inducted early in the prison sentence which is consistently monitored in the community. Noel adds that there needs to be a trusted relationship with the probation officer, often after relationships with authority have been damaged.
Jacob has been looking at international initiatives such as Brazil and Portugal, which essentially assigns a team around the individual to help and rehabilitate. They have psychologists in those teams, and they have people who ensure that the family is also getting support. For example, the wife of a prisoner will be supported to find a job. “It’s about making it an entire rehabilitative culture at home as well as in the system,” he says.
Mental health and closing the gap
Mental health is a major concern for those both in prison and trying to resettle into the community, from isolation to the impacts of having little purpose. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated much of this, particularly with most prisoners spending up to 23.5 hours / day in a cell. Noel recognises the empathy this has brought from much of the public, while Jacob believes the pandemic has brought about increased mental health awareness both in prisons and in the community.
In particular, it was discussed how the flexibility to offer remote support has been hugely beneficially for services and service users alike. Jacob says Offploy has been able to support three times as many people, with huge increases in engagement, thanks to the flexibility of remote support. But those changes are now being reversed.