John has praised probation after receiving support aimed at helping people released from prison to not reoffend.
The 25-year-old, who has autism, Asperger’s and ADHD, was serving a short custodial sentence for assaulting a police officer. He has a criminal record which spans a decade and includes a string of minor offences such as theft and stealing cars.
John* committed his first offence aged 12. His father is in jail and his mother has alcohol problems and John has experienced long periods of homelessness.
Nationally 64 per cent of adults released from short prison sentences of less than 12 months reoffend within a year. Interserve runs five Community Rehabilitation Companies and to address this ‘revolving door’ problem rolled out its Integrated Through the Gate (ITTG) model in April, following winning funding from the Ministry of Justice.
Sarah Stow, a specialist service officer for The Humberside, North Yorkshire & Lincolnshire Community Rehabilitation Company (HNLY CRC), is based at HMP Hull and works with prisoners to help them prepare for release. Recognising the complexities of John’s case, Sarah worked hard to ensure support was in place.
She said: “The aim is to work with service users 12 weeks before they are released, but many of the men I see have shorter sentences and so we only get to meet them days before they leave HMP Hull.
“I met John four weeks before finishing his custodial sentence. I could tell he’d need a complex support package. I worked with a charity in Scarborough to ensure he would be met at the end of his bus journey and helped through the housing and benefit processes because he couldn’t have navigated that on his own.
“I also stressed the importance to him of registering with a GP and drew maps for him illustrating where he needed to go because I could tell he understood that better than written instructions.”
Prior to joining probation this year, Sarah worked with teenagers in pastoral education many of whom had learning difficulties. Sarah arranged with her manager Sonia Leake to meet him outside the prison gate to ensure he got the right bus.
Sarah said: “John is vulnerable and easily led. He is often drunk when he commits offences and told me that because he has no GP and struggles with his condition, he often copes by drinking.
“When I left the prison gate I saw that John had already gone to the wrong bus stop and was mixing with people who were drinking on the street.
“I was able to get him on the right bus and to ensure that his first day in the community started well. I took a great deal of professional pride on seeing him make that bus and knowing that he was going to be met in Scarborough by the right people.”
John said: “I am doing well now and have my own flat which I am really happy about.
“I think the help I got from Sarah on that first day was important. She made sure I got the right bus and told me how to register with a doctor.”
John has now been in the community for more than four weeks. He is regularly attending probation appointments with his case manager Linda Rose and has organised his benefits, a flat and GP.
Sarah said: “It broke my heart to think that his first day could easily have ended up with him getting drunk, being homeless and potentially getting back into trouble again.
“John told me he feels comfortable in prison. That is often the case with people with chaotic lifestyles. To make a fresh start, people need a stake in society – they need a goal and to feel they have something to lose if they mess up.
“Now that John has a flat and is happy, he has that stake. I am so happy by the way probation works to provide that opportunity to people like John.”
Sonia is the ITTG strategic manager for Hull and Humber prisons and runs a 14-strong team. She has worked closely with a range of partner agencies to ensure service users get a holistic service which supports their successful reintegration into society.
A total of 440 men subject to short sentences who are assessed as being a low risk of re-offending are supported by HLNY’s specialist service officers who then pass the cases onto HLNY’s probation case managers in the community. Commissioned service Shelter also provide accommodation support to inmates as part of the ITTG process.
Offenders classed as being likely to reoffend qualify for extra support. This involves ITTG staff working with them in the prison and in the community. There are currently 41 such men in HMP Hull.
Sonia said: “Central to the model’s delivery is knowing how we can direct our service users to help them create the community networks they need to help them make positive changes to their lives and ultimately to stop re-offending.
“Understanding how each agency works and how we can integrate each individual so their wellbeing – physical and mental – can be supported is crucial. We are also able to provide much better information on each of our service users to the partner agencies so that the right support package can be created.
“John’s case is far from unique and I am thrilled that the right combination of support has enabled him to make that difficult transition from the prison to the community.”
*John is not the service user’s real name.