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Report tells of help for ex-prisoners

13 June 2014

SHUTTERSTOCK

FOR Brian, leaving prison after two years was "traumatic. I was 55, had lost all contact with family, and coming out with nothing and nobody, with a bag of clothes and £46. I didn't even know if I was going left or right out of the gate."

On Thursday of last week, he explained how being met by a group of Christian volunteers "saved my life".

Brian was speaking at the launch of a report evaluating the impact of Basic Caring Communities, a project run by the Prison Advice and Care Trust. He described how, for three months, the four volunteers supported him, through daily phone calls and a weekly meeting. From taking him for an English breakfast after his release to helping him secure accommodation, the group provided intense support: "It was comforting; somebody listening to my worries and concerns."

Diane, one of the volunteers who supported Brian, described the "mountain of obstacles" faced by those leaving prison. "There is always a huge worry about accommodation, and, when it is found, it is often very grim, full of addicts, and it is very hard for men who are trying to leave that behind."

Food and transport costs were also a challenge. Diane described how one man staying in a hostel in Croydon had to attend probation meetings in Wimbledon. "I have found I have been very humbled by many who have been in very serious situations, but they very rarely ask for practical things," she said. "They want support, advice, and help filling in forms."

The evaluation of the project, carried out by Nef Consulting, concluded: "Having a non-judgemental, genuine support network for the first few months of release is a great asset at what is, for most, a very difficult time."

Dr Jenny Rouse, who conducted the research, suggested that, while evaluations tended to focus on measuring the recidivism rate, other measures could be significant, such as the impact on emotional well-being.

Participants at the launch discussed whether faith groups played "a distinct role in the reintegration of former prisoners".

There were words of caution from those commissioning services, about proselytising, or suggesting that only faith groups were equipped to do this work.

Dr Ruth Armstrong, a research associate with the Prisons Research Centre at Cambridge University, suggested that, in faith communities, "People hear words about themselves that they may not hear about themselves in other contexts."

Brian agreed: "I heard 'You are a good person,' instead of standing in front of a judge."

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