Research has highlighted the often strained relationships that exist between prisoners and their family before, during and after their sentence (Hairston 1991; Visher
and Travis 2003; Niven and Stewart 2005; Travis 2005). At the same time, for some
prisoners, familial attachments during a prison sentence can be crucial for managing
the pressures of prison life, providing hope for when they are released, and granting
essential support during the resettlement process (Naser and La Vigne 2006; Rocque
et al. 2013). Desistance research also highlights the critical role of familial bonds for
reducing reoffending (Sampson and Laub 1993; Laub et al. 1998). Therefore, identifying opportunities for strengthening family relations in prison may be an important way
to limit recidivism and aid prisoner resettlement. The effects of prisoner attachment to family on re-entry outcomes: A longitudinal assessment. (Brunton-Smith, I. and McCarthy, D., 2016)
Some people are entitled to receive a discharge grant to help them on release – however, this has remained fixed at £46 since 1997. Prison Reform Trust (2018)
Being sent to prison has obvious repercussions for the individual, and for their families/loved ones. One of those, is what happens post release, when the euphoria of being released has warn off and the reality of life hits everyone. Having responsibility and choice placed back in your hands, after having it ceremoniously ripped out of them along with the loss of liberty, can and does change people. Yours is not the only life to change overnight. For the family and loved ones, the habit and routine of visiting immediately stops, as does the camaraderie of them and us in the visits centre. Many lives, once again, in an instant, changed!
Many people in prison are released with debts which have built up during their sentence – adding to the problems they face on release. These include outstanding fines, rent arrears or mobile phone contracts. Inspectors found that in many cases no action was taken before release, despite problems being apparent at the start of the sentence.
Criminal Justice Joint Inspection (HMIP, 2017)
The above image comes from the Universal Credit: guide for prison leavers. The reason I have used this image is to highlight how easy it could be to have any benefits sorted out before release. According to the guide the prison work coach virtually does it all anyway. Another benefit, along with setting up bank accounts, is confirmation of the persons ID can be obtained from the prison, rather than, as the above guide suggests, leaving it as a last resort. One of the most stressful things about being released is sorting out benefits, why on earth with the available technology already at hand can this major headache not be avoided by arranging benefits prior to release? No one should leave prison without a number of processes having been carried out, three of which, are sorting out:
- Bank Account.
When I was released in June 2017, I was told prior to my release that I would have to reside at an Approved Premises (AP, probation bail hostels). To start with, although my support network, Future Projects was located in Norwich, and after completing a week long resettlement course with them in prison, I was to spend six weeks at an AP in Luton, before being transferred back to Norwich. At least the AP in Norwich made arrangements with a local GP for it’s residents. I had applied for ESA, after my release, and needed a sick note from a doctor, to not only, as I found out later, for the claim to go ahead, but, also, the DWP would need a sick note before paying a short-term benefit advancement. A useful service to someone being released from prison, especially after they stopped paying out community care grants and crisis loans. Once again, it was down to family and loved ones to financially assist me over this period which lasted 4 weeks, I got my benefits paid before getting an emergency short-term benefit advancement, which I therefore never received, because I had my benefits arranged. Oh the joys of that period of elation, during my early days of release, in a hostel, in a town I’ve never been to. Although, with the curfew and conditions of reporting to the hostel, there wasn’t much time for sight-seeing. Having said that, it was not unusual to return and have sitting on the hostel wall, ladies of the night offering horizontal entertainment at reasonable prices, or the local expander of minds with his many tempting wares to escape reality. Fortunately, again, my friends and family, along with Future, provided me with the emotional support to scrape through those first six weeks.
All of that could have quite easily been avoided – well, not having to reside at an AP but that’s a debate I may share after my licence ends. ; ) – by having my benefits sorted and the GP arranged prior to my release. The emotional and financial support needed, doesn’t end when the sentence ends. In some cases, it may be that more is needed post-release than while the person was serving. To me, it seems common sense to have benefits, a bank account and a GP sorted prior to release. I also do not envisage it being difficult to arrange and manage.
It would be difficult for me to describe anyone else’s experiences of release, having gone through quite a few releases myself, under differing circumstances in my personal life, and also in the circumstances of release. Being NFA (no further action) whilst on remand and released, receiving judge in chambers bail and being released plus being found not guilty at court and walking after a period on remand. None of which, by the way, do you receive a discharge grant or compensation. As well as, you might find you have to travel back to the prison to get whatever money you had while in prison. I’ve also being released on licence and after finishing off a sentence following recall. The latter being one where they really do not care about you. A funny(ish) story from my experience of one such recall. I was serving my sentence out in HMP Blundeston, with 28 days remaining the MAPPA panel had sat and decided that I was too high risk to be released at that stage and would have to serve till end of sentence. I received the letter from my offender manager exactly SEVEN days before my actual release date. I was crying with laughter. Oh! the fun I have had with probation over the years. April this year my licence ends. Watch this space.
Aside from the issues with Luton, one of my biggest battles, post-release, was becoming dis-institutionalised, if that’s not a word, it is definitely a process I’m going through, even now, four months shy of two years out. Although, it is a battle that I have taken by the scruff of the neck and am probably getting extremely close to the referee stopping the fight. Each and everyone that are released from prison, have their own personal battles, along with the family and loved ones of the said person who no doubt have personal battles of their own post-release.
Just remember that following release, things will never be the same, it takes time to adjust, each in our own ways and own time. As enjoyable as release day is, and maybe the party that night, be ready for reality.