We know through our work in prisons and our campaigning that being released from prison during the holidays or on Fridays can make the already complicated release process more difficult. With many key services closed, those released during these times may struggle to sort out housing, funds and health support. It can feel like a race against the clock.
“Friday releases are a nightmare. They are extremely stressful for [prison leavers] and all involved. If their release is later on a Friday, many may end up homeless all weekend with no money and no health support due to everything being closed over the weekend. If this happens on a bank holiday then the period the service user will be without would be extended dramatically.”
– Nacro Resettlement worker
Our resettlement teams support prisoners with housing issues including sourcing accommodation for those who are homeless, as well as helping with financial issues such as benefits and debts. Our teams take them through their day of release to begin integration into the community. Despite our calls to end Friday releases, and, by extension, bank holiday releases, releases of this nature continue to happen. Our teams continue to battle to ensure that people released during those times don’t fall through the cracks in the system. And while we are proud to make a difference to those we support, it’s devastating to know that many former prisoners begin their journey on the outside homeless and hungry.
Over Christmas and the New Year, our staff based at HMP Doncaster worked tirelessly to ensure that all releases were supported, working in partnership with Serco and Doncaster Town Centre. Setting up the prison visit room as the Bank Holiday Release Centre, our staff managed to provide critical support to some of the most vulnerable in society.
Twenty-three people were released from HMP & YOI Doncaster on 24th December, Christmas Eve. Due to the way the bank holiday had fallen this year, service users with a release date falling between 25th and 28th December were all released on that date. The Christmas Eve releases were split into 3 cohorts for release: vulnerable prisoners at 8am and two groups of main population service users at 9am and 10am. All releases were booked in and seen by a Nacro member of staff who supported with either an accommodation or finance need. Service users were then given the option for a taxi to be to be booked to transport them to their destination.
Accommodation included a range of provision: Approved Premises, own tenancies, family addresses, accommodation found on the day by Nacro, supported housing and HPT funded accommodation. 11 service users were supported with claiming/restarting their Universal Credit claim and applying for Advance Claims.
One service user had no access to a mobile phone and due to this he was not able to claim Universal Credit as this was required in order for a work coach to call back. As it was Christmas Eve, the job centres were closed and so he could not walk into the Job Centre to get the claim sorted in person.
New Year’s Eve
HMP & YOI Doncaster had six prison releases on the 31st December. Again, due to the way the bank holiday fell this year, an unusually high number of people were released on this date. The same system was used as on Christmas Eve. All releases were booked in and seen by a Nacro member of staff who supported with either an accommodation or finance need.
Of the six service users that were released, one returned to a family address, three were found accommodation on the day by Nacro and two went to HPT funded accommodation. Four service users were supported with claiming/restarting their Universal Credit claim and putting in for Advance Claims (ranging from £100 to £345).
Taking learnings from the Christmas Eve releases, particularly relating to the service user without a phone, our team checked in with prisoners regarding access to phones to minimise challenges to Universal Credit claims. All but two had phones and so mobile phones were sourced and provided to them on the day.
It took an enormous amount of innovation and cooperation, particularly during the pandemic, to pull this off and make sure that no one was left on the streets. A race against time involving multiple agencies should not be the norm – ending Friday and bank holiday releases would go a long way to solving this perennial issue.