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Prison Discharge Pathway Project: what needs to change?

VOICES prison pathway

Author: Sharon Sharman, Learning and Evaluation Manager, VOICES


In late 2020 we mobilised a series of VOICES legacy projects that focus on gaps, barriers and issues that have been identified as key and ongoing challenges for people experiencing multiple disadvantages in Stoke-on-Trent.   The rationale for the project themes was drawn from a wide variety of sources including lived experiences of customers and colleagues, national research, case studies, academic articles, local evaluations, and insight from work undertaken across the VOICES partnership since 2014.  Our work shows that the transition from hospital or prison into the community is often a point at which plans – if they have been designed – can breakdown.

We recognised that improved discharge planning for people experiencing multiple disadvantages would increase the likelihood of a successful transition and the establishment of a more sustainable foundation for recovery.  To work towards this, we collaborated with stakeholders from across the city and established the VOICES ‘Transitions -prison discharge’ legacy project.  Our project team includes VOICES team members, Expert Citizens, and key stakeholders who have co-produced and are co-delivering the prison discharge project.  The aims of the project are:


  • there is a recommended prison release pathway that addresses the specific issues identified by VOICES for people experiencing multiple disadvantage
  • the recommended prison release pathway is the result of consultation and coproduction with key stakeholders
  • the pathway is presented to strategic apex stakeholders as recommendations


The team have worked with a diverse range of stakeholders applying a wide variety of research and creative methods.  To date we have completed:


  • Citywide Community of Practice
  • Virtual exploration of a prison release plan based on an actual real lived example – published case study
  • Pilot of specialist welfare benefit advice within the local prison release pathway – ongoing
  • Research of national and local prison release pathways and mandatory requirements
  • Identification of examples from across the nation of ‘what works well’ and best practice in prison discharge
  • Workshops with current prisoners to capture their real lived experiences and recommendations – led by Rideout (Creative Arts for Rehabilitation), Stoke-on-Trent
  • A series of discussions with stakeholders who identified gaps and challenges within prison release


VOICES legacy project officers Steve Willis and Lee Dale have been working with stakeholders for several months to capture their working and lived experiences of prison discharge pathways.  Stakeholders were asked if they had identified any gaps, difficulties, or issues within prison discharge; the following are summaries of needs identified extracted from stakeholder responses:


Basic needs

Three key areas identified:


  • The supply of and navigating resettlement services outside of prison
  • Identifying and securing accommodation is challenging – impacting on employment opportunities
  • Challenges with ID, particularly supporting people with bank accounts


It was recognised that – if the above practical support is not secured for the day of release, the journey becomes more complicated as people leaving prison have so many things to deal with, including their wellbeing and emotions.


Health needs

It was recognised that many people leaving prison are experiencing co-occurring mental ill health and substance misuse. Stakeholders acknowledged that this would not only impact on the people themselves in struggling with the complexities of symptoms whilst navigating a complex journey but that it’s ‘difficult for everyone’ – pressures on the local authority and support services, for example. A particular challenge identified is that there are gaps in the link between prison mental health services and community mental health services; the transition could be ‘smoother’.

Physical health needs including registration with a GP and / or dentist were highlighted as being further challenges that people will need to deal with once released from prison – these resources are accessible within prisons through a variety of clinics.


System / Commissioning needs

The fragmentation of services:  there is such a broad range of organisations, agencies, charities, local authorities who are all involved in prison resettlement – this is difficult for people themselves to navigate; it is also difficult for prisons to navigate in coordinating pre-release actions.  It is recognised that agencies and their staff are working hard, but that it’s very challenging to ‘pull it all together’ to ensure the most effective and most efficient outcomes.

Stakeholders were also asked to share experiences in relation to how well the ‘systems’ within prisons now are able to deal with complex issues – long-term and multiple traumas, high proportions of care leavers, people experiencing PTSD and those who have been subject to abuse:


Learning needs

Stakeholders were also asked to share experiences in relation to how well the ‘systems’ within prisons now are able to deal with complex issues – long-term and multiple traumas, high proportions of care leavers, people experiencing PTSD and those who have been subject to abuse.  There are examples of innovative work and positive practice in supporting the wellbeing of people in prison; there is a perception among some stakeholders that trauma informed approaches, acquired brain injury and personality disorder may not be sufficiently understood.


Cultural needs

Creating a culture of shared understanding of the pressures and challenges that each agency faces would be positive; sometimes agencies will ‘point the finger’ at another when, in fact, they are both facing huge challenges in delivery.

In line with the VOICES citywide learning programme that has encouraged a culture of ‘no name, no shame, no blame’, the identity of the stakeholders is not shared; this is to enable us to host open, honest, and safe conversations with our project team to ensure that we capture the perceptions and impressions of reality for stakeholders and the recurring themes.

Further insight from stakeholders will be shared within an upcoming consultation and coproduction session, along with recommendations a group of people with lived experience of being in and being released from prison.  The project team are currently organising the details for the event and will be contacting key partners with an invitation to attend and to contribute to the final recommendations.


If you would like further information about the project and / or the event, please contact our project officers Steve Willis or Lee Dale:

[email protected]

[email protected]

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