The reality of reintegration after prison

After reading the New Jim Crow, which opened my eyes to the huge barriers faced in reintegration by those released from prison in the US, I was interested to find out how the UK compares. Unfortunately it is a similar story. Sadly those released from prison do not just pick back up from where they left off. Instead there are a large number of barriers that an ex-offender in the UK will face, so it is no surprise that 48% reoffend within a year of release. 

One in seven prisoners become addicted to illegal drugs within prison

Accommodation is a key concern for many leaving prison with a third of them saying they had no where to stay. If they are not lucky enough to have a family to stay with, then they can usually be given accommodation by the local council. However the type of accommodation offered is very varied and some end up being placed in hostels while they await more permanent housing. A report in Scotland found that many of those released from prison felt that hostels were unsuitable for them; they were targeted by drug dealers and some felt the cameras and surveillance reminded them too much of prison. One in seven prisoners become addicted to illegal drugs within prison and therefore it is vital that they are able to make an effort towards recovery when released; this will be even more difficult in environments such as these. Some choose to live with friends or on the street instead of taking the offer of a hostel. Homelessness is a huge problem among the ex offender population with a report conducted in London finding that in 2015 to 2016 a third of those seen sleeping rough had served time in prison. Safe, secure and stable accommodation is a key stepping stone towards reintegration so it must be a priority. 

I was shocked to learn that although once released ex-offenders are given a discharge grant to help with expenses for a couple of weeks; this is a mere £46. This is supposed to cover costs until they receive benefits or become employed but both can prove difficult. Many companies will ask about criminal convictions within the first round of application meaning that ex-offenders can be easily dismissed for the role before they have been given a chance to prove themselves. The ban the box campaign is urging for this practice to be stopped so that ex-offenders will only have to disclose convictions later on in the process. Although for now this practice is legal, some companies are acting unlawfully in the way they deal with ex-offenders job applications. Most convictions will become spent after a certain period of time, meaning they do not have to be declared when applying for a job. A report found that many companies do not provide applicants with this information and so they may disclose a conviction which they are legally not required to do. 

These are only a few among many barriers that ex-offenders will face on release, but it is clear that the world they re-enter is hostile and un-welcoming.

The struggles involved in accessing employment can therefore lead to many having to apply for benefits. However ex-offenders can only apply for Universal Credit once they are released so delays are already inevitable, some wait up to 9 weeks for payment, but these can be exacerbated when those who are homeless or sofa surfing have difficulties accessing benefits due to lack of identification. Lack of valid ID can also lead to problems with opening up a bank account; which would enable ex-offenders to more easily save, budget and keep their money safe. The social justice charity ‘Nacro’ is urging the government to tackle this issue by ensuring that those released from prison have valid ID. Financial difficulties can hinder successful reintegration in many ways; not being able to afford a phone can impact negatively on attempts to rebuild relationships with family and friends which are vital in offering stability. 

These are only a few among many barriers that ex-offenders will face on release, but it is clear that the world they re-enter is hostile and un-welcoming. They have served their sentence, but their ‘punishment’ continues once released. These are some of the most vulnerable members of our society who should be supported and uplifted to ensure they can move towards a brighter future instead of being beaten down when they try. 

By Kate Hanton

Illustration: by Alyah Albader

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