At Nacro we believe that in these unprecedented times, it is more important than ever to support those caught up in the criminal justice system, both in prison and on release. While there has been much immediate focus on how to manage the prison estate, for those whose release date is coming up, reintegrating into the community at this current time will be extremely challenging, particularly for those that do not have the foundations such as housing or financial support in place. We believe a thorough, whole-system approach needs to be adopted in order to best support some of the most vulnerable members of our society to move forward with their lives in these ever changing times.
We are calling for the following:
1. Reducing prison numbers
With overcrowding and poor conditions in overstretched prisons, it is unlikely that in the event of a Coronavirus outbreak, the prison estate has the ability to provide adequate self isolation units to prevent the spread, potentially endangering both prisoners and staff. We believe there a number of measures that can be put in place to decrease the amount of people entering our already overcrowded prison estate. Implementing a presumption against short sentences, reducing recall to only those in a high risk category and considering release of those with serious underlying health conditions are just some of the solutions that could be put into place. For those on remand who are awaiting trial, which could be delayed indefinitely, release should also be considered.
Pregnant women have now been added to the list of vulnerable people instructed to self isolate due to the risks attached to catching the COVID-19 virus. For pregnant women in prison, this will be extremely challenging and therefore we believe release into the community is the only way to keep them safe. For many women in prison, the majority of which are serving short sentences for non violent offences, underlying health conditions will be already be present and given how quickly we know the virus can spread, release into safe accommodation with support is crucial.
The physical/mental health and safety of both staff and prisoners is of paramount importance and any actions taken by the government need to consider this as a priority.
2. Guaranteeing people leaving prison somewhere to live
We know that having somewhere safe and stable to live is absolutely fundamental for anyone being released from prison. Where local authorities will be looking at how to source accommodation for those that are homeless in the community, those leaving prison need to automatically enter into a priority, emergency group in order to ensure no prison leavers are left on the streets vulnerable and at risk of reoffending. Releasing people from prison without anywhere to go, particularly those who will need to self isolate puts the safety of both prison leavers and the community at risk.
We are still working with our housing partners in the community to understand how they will run their services and support those most in need.
3. Accessing financial support
We believe everyone leaving prison should be able to access financial support without the requirement of a face to face appointment. Clarity is needed as to how prison leavers can access funds immediately without having a JCP appointment and around the logistics of how they will physically receive funds if they do not already have a bank account, for example. For the most vulnerable and those without access to technology, this will be extremely challenging and any logistical arrangements need to consider this.
4. Flexibility around delivery of contracts
Charities like us delivering vital frontline support rely on contract income to run our provision. In these ever changing times, flexibility is needed to ensure organisations like us can still deliver critical support and that funding will continue, despite potential changes to delivery. Unprecedented events such as this require an adaptable approach and it is vital that contracts can flex to respond to this.
5. Adapting resettlement support
It is crucial that resettlement provision continues to support people to reintegrate into the community with the core foundations they need – safe and stable housing, financial support and so on. However this approach will need to change in the coming weeks and months with many providers and agencies moving to telephone support where possible. We believe provision and delivery needs to adapt further, scaling up existing advice services to increase resettlement support offered remotely to meet a potential increased need.