Rising to the challenge of Covid-19 and supporting people leaving prison early

It’s been over six weeks since the country went into lock down. For many that has meant adjusting to life at home, working, schooling, simply keeping their head above water.

Our New Routes mentors, who support 1,200 prison leavers a year, have adapted their working practices to continue providing high quality, person-centred support, and providing the best possible chance for anyone leaving prison at this challenging time.

Although we can’t work face to face just now, we have risen to the challenge of Covid-19, in particular to support those who are released early from prison.

Here’s what we’ve done so far:

Supported three times the number of customers

At a time when many services have had to reduce support, we have extended our support. In the past four weeks, 290 people have joined the New Routes Mentoring service – three times more than normal.

Our ability to deliver at this level has been the result of building on a proven model that we’ve run for seven years, has been invested in consistently and stands the test of time. Plus, we adapted and reengineered our delivery back in mid-March so it could be done remotely.

Pioneered liberation packs to provide as a safety net on release

Normally, we meet customers at the gate on prison release, but that’s not possible during lockdown.

Instead, we pioneered the Liberation Pack and prepared one for every customer leaving custody just now. Our packs contain:

  • Information about the service
  • Contact details of their named mentor
  • Details of our dedicated free phone number
  • List of relevant services for them to engage with, like details of temporary accommodation or a local pharmacy
  • Where appointments have been setup pre-release, providing those details
  • Supermarket vouchers to enable them to purchase or topup a mobile phone to keep in contact with us

Working closely with the Scottish Prison Service, these packs are included in the customer’s belongings on release.

Encouragingly, 73% of customers are still engaging with their mentor post release.

A customer, who left prison to find his temporary accommodation had no record of his place, was saved from sleeping on the streets thanks to vouchers that enabled him to purchase a mobile phone and call his mentor for free. His mentor contacted the Homelessness team and found the right accommodation for him.  Without the contents of the liberation pack, he would have had no way to get in touch with the right people and would have slept rough.

Ensured everyone considered for early release was offered the service

We worked closely with the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) to identify those who could access the service. As a nationwide programme, this means that almost any male serving a short term sentence can work with a New Routes mentor.

We started preparations for early release five weeks ago with the aim that that everyone considered for early release would be assertively offered the service. Using Email a Prisoner, we offered the service to over 800 individuals due for release in the coming six months.

Now, with the regulations being laid in Parliament on 4th May, we anticipate that around 400 people will be released early. All prisoners who can access New Routes Mentoring have been offered the service and 51% are already receiving support, with a mentor allocated to support them on release. Every person behind this number already has a Liberation Pack prepared.

We have also prepared packs for those not on the programme. Prison staff will give a pack to prison leavers who join the service at the point of release. 

To date, we have prepared over 110 liberation packs for everyone considered for release as part of Tranche 1 and delivered them to the prisons in advance of the releases.

Michael was one of the first to be released from prison under our new way of working. He has been in contact with his mentor almost every day and, as a carer for his mum, is receiving support to navigate the benefits system in challenging circumstances. He spoke to the BBC about his time in prison and the challenges presented by lockdown. Read it here.

Mentoring is proven to provide the much needed glue between services in society. The 1-2-1, non-judgemental relationship that a professional mentor has with their customer improves attitudes and behaviours towards offending, improves engagement with statutory and non-statutory services, and reduces reoffending. We are well placed to develop the programme further over the coming months to ensure a well-rounded service that meets the needs of those we support, communities and stakeholders.

Let’s talk

If you’d like to work with the Wise Group to support people in the justice system and help make communities safer, then get in touch. 

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