Hypothetical Question… What would you do?
By Elena Casilli, Service Coordinator, VOICES
Anyone who works with customers who are in prison thinks about prison release day with trepidation … have they got an address to go to? hoping their customer isn’t released on a Friday, do they have a bank account? a mobile phone? are they still registered with a GP?… more questions than answers but some of these issues are resolved prior to release…well the easier ones are. It goes without saying the amount of phone calls, emails, referrals, and prison visits prior to release to make sure all that could be done, has been done.
On the day of prison release, we all know its going to be a long day with back to back mandatory and non-mandatory appointments. How does a person prioritise their needs over mandatory appointments that could have their license recalled and returned to prison?
With my time at VOICES I have supported many customers on their day of release. Some more successful than others but I always think the same thing, how can they attend all their appointments without my support? By that I mean chauffeuring them from one appointment to the next which may include:
- Meet with their Probation Officer and review their license agreement and complete paperwork. This normally takes about an hour.
- Meet with the Criminal Justice Engagement Worker at the Drug Service to complete more paperwork and to nominate a chemist to collect their prescription from, (this is OK if you have an address, but challenging if you don’t know where you’ll be). This takes about another hour or more.
- Complete Universal Credit (UC) Claim – once again OK if you have an email address, mobile phone etc. It’s made easier if the customer has an appointment at the Job Centre to get support to make a new claim. Once again, this will be another hour or so.
It’s possible to attend all their appointments if the customer has the benefit of being collected and taken to their appointments, but more importantly if they are spaced out throughout the day. But what happens if they must make their own way from the prison that is more than likely located in another county and they need to get to Stoke for their 12pm probation appointment? Then make their way to the Drug Service then onto the Job Centre.
But if you have noticed there’s one major need that hasn’t been mentioned, housing. If they are released with no fixed abode – they need to attend the Council to meet their Housing Needs Officer to complete some additional paperwork and be offered some temporary accommodation. This takes between 1 or 2 hours.
What would you prioritise if you made your own way to Stoke from prison on a Friday? Attend probation as stipulated, attend the drug service to make sure you remain scripted, complete your UC claim and get your advanced payment or go to the Council to try and get a bed for the night? More than likely you wouldn’t arrive in Stoke until midday and your appointments are across the city at various locations, what actions would you prioritise? Oops, I forgot to add, these are not drop-in appointments they are for set times and if you’re late you just wait until your name is called.
Does the current system need to change to eliminate the dilemma of choosing one appointment over another then facing the subsequent consequences because you were late?
A potential solution to this could be to spread out necessary appointments over two days, or even three, maximising the chances of those appointments being kept. It is in the best interest of everyone involved that a person being released from prison has the appropriate resources available to them to make the best fresh start possible, avoiding returning to committing crime to survive (not having welfare benefits in place can be a major catalyst for this), which would lead to being recalled to prison. It seems reasonable and realistic that with some careful planning extra time could be provided. In doing so the likelihood of an immediate recall would be significantly reduced.