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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Beyond the Gate: Helping vulnerable prisoners to resettle in the community

Housing Rights is piloting a new service that aims to prevent homelessness amongst people leaving prison by continuing to support these people beyond the prison gates.  We are very grateful to the NI Housing Executive for providing us with the funding to run this service, known as “Beyond the Gate”.

Providing additional support to sustain tenancies

Housing Rights Service has been providing assistance to prisoners in Northern Ireland since 2006.  Our advisers work to ensure that prisoners have somewhere to stay when they are released from prison. During this time, we’ve noticed a pattern of recidivism, or repeat offending, amongst some of our clients, particularly those who have a history of homelessness and vulnerable clients with multiple, often complex needs.

 It is well-established that homelessness can lead to recidivism, with some ex-prisoners carrying out petty crimes so that they are admitted back into the system and have somewhere to stay.   A 2012 report from the Ministry of Justice found:

“More than three-quarters of prisoners (79%) who reported being homeless before custody were reconvicted in the first year after release, compared with less than half (47%) of those who did not report being homeless before custody”   Accommodation, homelessness and reoffending of prisoners: Results from the Surveying Prisoner Crime Reduction (SPCR) survey

Traditionally, some of our more vulnerable clients in prisons tend not to engage well with services once they have left prison.  This new project hopes to change that pattern and to provide additional support to prisoners to ensure that they can sustain their accommodation once they leave prison. 

How will this project work?

Relevant agencies who work with prisoners in custody or in the community can refer clients who have particularly complex needs to the service.  The project is aimed at those prisoners who are likely to have difficulties sustaining a tenancy when they leave prison without extra support. 

Once they receive a client’s details, Beyond the Gate staff will begin to identify the type of support each individual will need once released.  The adviser will ensure that this support is in place and that all involved services are aware of each other and offer a joined-up approach to the client’s needs.  

The success of this project very much depends on effective partnership working between various agencies in the statutory and voluntary sectors.    We are currently developing links with relevant agencies across Northern Ireland and hope to get key contacts at these agencies on board with the initiative.

If you’d like to find out more about the project or how your agency can access this service, contact Peter McMahon at Housing Rights Service.

The service model

The BTG service will be flexible and responsive to the individual needs of each client and will incorporate at least three stages of support:

Pre-release Stage

When a prisons housing adviser, or other agreed agency, identifies a prisoner who could benefit from the project, they should make a referral to Beyond the Gate 6 to 8 weeks before the prisoner is due to be released.

Beyond the Gate staff will then meet with the client and start building a relationship.  The adviser will begin to plan and explore appropriate housing and support options for the client.   The adviser will liaise with support services well in advance of release to ensure that the support plan and the providers are agreed and on-board long before the client exits the prison, thereby ensuring the greatest chance of success.

On Release Stage

On the day of release, each client can be met at the prison gate by his or her Beyond the Gate adviser.  If this isn’t possible, or appropriate, the adviser will organise for the client to be met by a family member or relative instead.   As part of this “at the gate” meeting, the adviser or family member will take the client to the accommodation that has been arranged for his or her release.

Post Release Stage

Beyond the Gate advisers will provide an intensive, community-based service to each of their clients once they have left prison.  Ideally, this will take place over a relatively short period of time, between 4 and 6 weeks.  The adviser will ensure that the client is going to be able to sustain his or her accommodation, with the help of the agreed support provisions, and will make sure that the client has engaged with all his connected support providers within the agreed timeframes.


Tagged In

Minority Groups, Homelessness

This article was written on 25 March 2015. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.