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New support for prison leavers aims to reduce homelessness and crime

A new partnership project has been launched aimed at preventing homelessness among ex-offenders and reducing the likelihood they will return to criminal behaviour.

The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk (OPCCN) is working with St Martin’s to help people released from prison to find accommodation, bring stability to their lives and reintegrate into communities.

Having safe, consistent accommodation can reduce the likelihood someone will reoffend by 20%, but prison leavers are at high risk of homelessness. Other factors that can make individuals vulnerable to returning to crime include drug or alcohol dependency, financial worries and lack of opportunity to earn money, complex mental or physical health needs, and being unable to access help and support to address these issues.

Norfolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Lorne Green said: “Release from prison can be an overwhelming and challenging experience. Having access to help and support is vital in making a successful transition from a life behind bars to a crime-free one back in Norfolk’s communities.

“Currently, with the level of service that local organisations and charities are able to offer being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, getting the help they need to make that transition could be more difficult than usual for prison leavers. With that in mind, I’m pleased to be joining forces with St Martin’s to try to make that process a little easier and help ensure prison leavers can make the best start to their new future.”

With prison leavers making up 34% of demand for accommodation across the city of Norwich, the 12-month project will focus on that area. To complement the range of services already offered by St Martin’s, a new PCC-funded Person-Centred Support Officer will work directly with prison leavers to help them access mental, physical and emotional care, and support their reintegration back into society by encouraging positive activities and links with communities.

The PCC added: “Finding a safe and reliable place to stay can be one of the first major hurdles for prison leavers to overcome – and with their living conditions and the associated health implications putting rough sleepers at risk of Covid-19 infection, there is an added imperative both in terms of their safety and limiting spread of the virus.

“St Martin’s has a wealth of experience in supporting people in addressing their accommodation needs. As well as providing help with housing, this partnership with my office will offer support to prison leavers to also identify and tackle the other things in their lives which might lead them back down the path of offending.”

Dr Jan Sheldon, CEO of St Martin’s, said: “This project is a step towards breaking the cycle of homelessness and incarceration. Each person will receive the one-to-one support they need to give them the best chance to reduce the likelihood of reoffending.

“St Martins provides more than a home for the homeless. The person-centred approach means that support will be tailored to the individual so, for example, they might receive help with financial planning, support in fostering good relationships or with addiction.

“We are delighted to be involved in a collaborative approach to addressing the issue.”