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Project supporting prison leavers extended thanks to partnership backing

A project launched last month to prevent homelessness among ex-offenders and reduce the likelihood of them returning to crime is already set to be extended thanks to backing from a partnership of local organisations.

The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk (OPCCN) announced during June 2020 that it would be working with St Martin’s to help people released from prison to find accommodation, bring stability to their lives and reintegrate into communities.

Match-funding has now been provided by the National Probation Service – Norfolk and Suffolk, to support an extension of the Housing for People Leaving Prison project beyond its initial 12-month term. The project’s aim of providing stable accommodation for prison leavers – as well as support to tackle the issues which make them vulnerable to reoffending – is being supported by Norwich City Council, Broadland Housing and Norfolk and Suffolk Community Rehabilitation Company.

Having safe, consistent accommodation can reduce the likelihood someone will reoffend by 20%, but prison leavers are at high risk of homelessness. With prison leavers making up 34% of demand for accommodation across the city of Norwich, the project will focus on that area and run until September 2022.

Reoffending can also be driven by 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. A new Person-Centred Support Officer at St Martin’s 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.

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 joined 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.

“I am delighted that this project has received the support of so many partner agencies – all committed to working together to stop the revolving door of offending and, ultimately, make our communities safer.”

Will Mills, Head of Resettlement Services at St Martin’s said: “St Martins are especially excited to be hosting this new Person-Centred Support Officer role. For us, it represents a chance to offer something different; longer term, more involved and better tailored support for the most vulnerable people in Norwich.

“This role will sit within St. Martins Resettlement Services which are already experienced in collaborative approaches to securing the housing, support and opportunities that people need. We are looking forward to working closely with each partner involved in this project to help each resident to maintain their tenancy and to help them to reduce the risk of them re-offending.

“Uniquely this model allows Support Workers the time and remit that they need to build good relationships and to set realistic and achievable goals with each resident. We will continue working with them until they feel able to live safely and independently within their community.”

Councillor Gail Harris, Deputy Leader of Norwich City Council and Cabinet Member for Social Housing, said: “We’re delighted to be providing funding to secure accommodation for people leaving prison as part of this innovative project. As a council, our priority is to provide good quality, well maintained affordable homes to meet local housing need, and this work absolutely fits into this ambition.

“Vitally, the needs of each individual are central to this project, and the expertise of each partner will ensure appropriate wrap-around support, so that those leaving prison have the best chance of moving on positively with their lives.”

Michael Newey, Chief Executive of Broadland Housing Group said: “I am really pleased that Broadland can play our part in this project.

“Broadland was established in 1963 to respond to homelessness, so this partnership work really does show our founding purpose in a very practical way.”

Paul Reeve, Deputy Director of Norfolk and Suffolk Community Rehabilitation Company, said: “We know that having settled and secure accommodation is a key factor in reducing the likelihood of reoffending for those leaving prison.

“We welcome this initiative and are pleased to be part of the partnership delivering this project to help people to resettle successfully in the community and change their lives for the better.”

Steve Johnson-Proctor, Regional Probation Director for the National Probation Service in the East of England, said: “We are very excited to be a key partner in this innovative project, which will have a real impact upon both individuals and the communities in the heart of Norfolk.

“We know the importance of giving people the opportunity to “grow roots” by having stable and suitable accommodation – and that this is one of the key factors for reducing people’s likelihood of reoffending. If people are to be given the opportunity to change for good, they need a stable base to enable them to concentrate on their rehabilitation.

“This has a positive impact upon all of us; the victims of crime, our communities, and the general public as a whole. Elizabeth Fry, one of the great social reformers, came from Norwich, so it seems fitting to me that a project with rehabilitation as its core value is now taking place in her city. I am confident this multi-agency endeavour will create positive outcomes for all of us.”