Prison Release Pathways Project: In Summary
Authors: Lee Dale, Community Development Coordinator, VOICES
Sharon Sharman, Director – VOICES
Our work over the lifetime of VOICES shows that the transition from prison into the community is often a point where plans breakdown; what should be a new start and a chance for change is instead a race to get as much ready and put in place as possible prior to the day of release. On the day of release there’s another race to fit in the multiple appointments and tasks, juggling mandatory appointments with accommodation interviews before even being able to let the customer adjust to their new freedom and surroundings. After all the planning and rushing there is no guarantee that everything will be ready. It was identified that customers sleeping rough on the street with no finances straight from prison is still a common occurrence. Workers involved in these rushing races expressed their frustrations in knowing that, after all efforts are invested, it may not be appositive outcome for the person. These frustrations do not just come from services in the community supporting the customers but are shared by workers within the Prisons.
VOICES has focussed on release from Prison for one of the systems change legacy projects with the aim to explore the inherent problems within pathways that create challenges, barriers, delays and difficulties for people leaving prison of no fixed abode and working with partners across the city, to coproduce recommendations for a more sustainable foundation for recovery.
The project has involved:
- Reviewing reports, including VOICES Prison Release Support 2016, previously published by VOICES against more recent reports such as CFE Research’s Improving service transitions for people experiencing multiple disadvantage: Prison release to see whether things had improved since findings were completed
- Discussions with local stakeholders
- A creative in-prison project to gather insight from people with lived experience
- Interviews with prison staff
- A pilot of specialist welfare benefit support embedded within the prison release pathway
- Coproduction of the report and recommendations
The part of the project competed with current prisoners was created and facilitated by Rideout (Creative Arts for Rehabilitation); findings are shared in a publication called Roundabout Tales. This publication captures the stories of people’s repeated experiences of imprisonment and release alongside the recommendations they believed were imperative to reduce the chance of return to Prison.
An example of one of their recommendations:
The role of the probation officer needs revision. They all felt that the modern probation service is focused far too much on surveillance and monitoring with no offer of support. Prisoners coming out of prison want a probation officer who treats each person as an individual rather than a ‘typology’, someone who is willing to give credit to people for being honest and above all, to understand that all people have their own stories which are particular to them. (Project participant)
This workstream culminated in a workshop on 1st December 2021 with representatives from local services, probation, and prisons to review all the recommendations that the project team had gathered from the different sources with the aim to coproduce an updated set of recommendations for improvements within prison release pathways.
The full list of recommendations forms a complete list of nearly 80 items and can be separated into three sub lists: one detailing best practice recommendations that can be implemented by front line workers and services immediately; the second: a list of positive changes that are applicable to service managers, and three: a more complex set of strategic recommendations that may require extra funding, potentially changes in laws or regulations and even a shift in culture and public perception away from a punitive mentality to one of rehabilitation, reintegration and trauma informed responses. Recommendations have been condensed and are being shared with the partnership and strategic leads of the new Changing Futures funding in Stoke-on-Trent.
Read Coproducing prison release pathways in Stoke-on-Trent in full here
Following completion of the report VOICES was approached to assist in supporting core attendees to develop a sustainable route for continuing discussions and development of improved pathways. Specific services are now planning to work with the Changing Futures team to collectively improve experiences and pathways from prison to Stoke-on-Trent. This work is currently being undertaken and hosted by Saltbox Restart.