Prisoner release project could shape future help for prisoners

A project is helping prisoners at HMP Belmarsh and HMP Elmley to overcome their mental health needs and build a positive life after release.

The ‘Through the Gate Project’ was established by Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust, to support prisoners identified as suffering with serious mental health needs on release.

It was in response to the nationally-recognised problem that this vulnerable group would re-offend quickly on release because of a lack of basic needs not being addressed including housing, access to benefits and inabilities to make personal arrangements with a local GP or mental health services.

Oxleas has brought in two third sector providers, Nacro and Centra Care and Support. They provide case workers which our prison staff refer prisoners to ahead of release to work on getting these basic needs in place ready for when they go ‘through the gate’ and back into their community.

The case workers meet with the prisoners and work with them right up to their release date, meeting them on the day they leave, to support them in their resettlement.

Keen to validate its importance and demonstrate value for money, Oxleas has set up a research project in consultation with Canterbury Christ Church University, called The RESET project. The two-year project is being led by a professor in Mental Health, to evaluate the success of the Through the Gate Project.

The research project will compare two groups of 60 people – one group which has received the usual help when leaving prison, and the other who will have received the enhanced help.

It is hoped that the group with supported release from prison will make a more successful and long-term re-integration into the community, highlighting the need for the extra intervention.

If successful, the two-year study could help shape the support future prisoners are given after release, bringing benefits to society including improved community safety and a reduction in re-offending.

John Turk, Director of Centra Support, said: “We often hear from ex-offenders that the help they received from our support workers has been crucial in helping them to avoid homelessness and re-offending. We welcome the opportunity to support this study, which will help us to further understand how ex-offenders can best be integrated back into the community.”

The Rt Hon The Lord Bradley, when formally launching the project, talked about the cycle of re-offending and that mental health services in prison should mirror those in the community. For years he had witnessed poor or inconsistent approaches in these areas and recognised the value of such projects, describing the service and supporting the research as a ‘beacon of hope.’

John Enser, Oxleas’ director of Forensic and Prison Services, is leading the project after seeing the positive effect of the ‘Through the Gate’ work. He said: “Better provision on release is most likely to make a significant impact to reduce the number of incidents of re-offending and therefore re-entry into prison.”

Published on 16th January 2017