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Over the last 20 years the UK prison population has almost doubled . With a squeeze in the public purse , one of the casualties has been projects that support people out of prison and back into their communities . The current adult reoffending rate stands at 47 per cent , so what is being done to understand the barriers facing people leaving prison and what help is there to overcome them ?
One project in Devon , run by EDP Drug and Alcohol Services ( now part of Humankind ) is working to provide intensive , tailored support in the weeks that run up to – and on the day of – a prisoner ’ s release , and it is attracting the attention of funders and commissioners alike .
TRANSITION The Departure Lounge is based at HMP Exeter , a busy remand prison where an average of 92 prisoners are released each month . EDP Drug and Alcohol Services has worked with a range of community partners for over three years to design and trial innovative , holistic ways to support the transition from prison to community . The result is the highly successful Check Out and Departure Lounge services that are commissioned by the South West Reducing Reoffending Partnership .
There is a lot to plan in supporting someone back into society from the prison environment . They must secure
housing and employment , check in with probation , reconnect with families and with communities and life outside , and for some they also have to connect with their local substance misuse service . All of this can be extremely daunting and even overwhelming . Staff use the conversations they have in the Check Out Lounge about the support on offer as a way to identify those with the most complex needs . They can then tailor the support accordingly .
It can be notoriously difficult to get people to open up about their situation and reach out for help .
It can be notoriously difficult to get people to open up about their situation and reach out for help , which is why the Departure Lounge team have nurtured mentors to play the role of reducing reoffending champion . They instigate conversations with the men and encourage them to see the benefits of becoming actively involved in their own release . If someone is feeling particularly anxious , they sit with them while they have their conversation with a support organisation to ensure that
their voice is heard and understood .
The Departure Lounge ’ s current reducing reoffending champion ( RRC ) says ‘ from my experience , most people re-offend due to lack of support and accommodation so they get influenced by doing the wrong things to survive . However , most prisoners are keen to become a better person and also be supportive to the community if given the opportunity ’.
The RRCs provide support on a number levels – instigating conversations , helping to fill out forms when people can ’ t read or write , signposting people to the correct support , passing on experience and knowledge or sometimes just providing a prop for people feeling anxious .
CHECK OUT LOUNGE The journey out of prison at HMP Exeter begins a month or so before departure day . Prisoners due for release are invited to the Check Out Lounge , a space for prisoners to meet with many of the agencies that they will need to engage with on their release . These meetings are a combination of in-person , telephone and video conference . Men can call out to these agencies on designated days and speak to specialist staff who will ensure that they are well prepared for the challenges and logistics of integration back into their local community .
Throughout the year there are also a number of hosted conversations with key support organisations . These used to be
as part of a community fayre , where men could circulate around the room and ask questions of community organisations including housing , employment , education , substance misuse and debt management . Since COVID these have been done via phone out , from people ’ s cells and also by video link from the legal video suite area in the prison .
They are also themed to ensure that all aspects of the process of applying for and receiving accommodation , employment and other support issues are covered . These phone out days were advertised through electronic kiosks on the wing landings and by a flyer delivered to each cell .
HOUSING MATTERS Check Out Housing Matters is a more bespoke service . Individual invitations are given to up to 30 prisoners to have a 15-minute video link with their local housing team or probation housing support . They also have follow-on time to meet and discuss issues and concerns with their case manager . These are run twice a month to ensure that all those who are eligible for release in the coming month can get the support they need .
The value of these conversations is the way that they can help
6 • DRINK AND DRUGS NEWS • APRIL 2022
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