Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Kathryn Holloway, has launched a single online home of services and a specialist call centre to help support former offenders with the help they need to lead a life free from crime.
The new county-wide initiative called Direction and its website of support services for ex-offenders was launched by the Commissioner in Luton yesterday (Tuesday April 2 2019).
The call centre service will be run through the charity YouTurn Futures, which already has extensive experience of working with prolific ex-offenders for the OPCC and Bedfordshire Police. The Commissioner has funded a full time co-ordinator for Direction to ensure former offenders in the county have access to services and support to reduce the risk of re-offending, with a manager working with two call handlers with the responsibility to also connect partners who can assist the individual offender. The website was constructed with the help of former prisoners themselves, including those who have served lengthy ‘life’ terms, to advise on the language and nature of what should be included.
An agreement with the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner means Direction is backed by the Department of Work and Pensions in an arrangement which puts a specialist in every one of the 13 Jobcentres in Bedfordshire and just over the border in Hertfordshire, offering employment and benefit advice to an ex-offender on the same day as his or her visit.
“What’s most important to me is to set up former offenders with the support they need to succeed, not to fail, on leaving HMP Bedford or other parts of the Criminal Justice system so it’s not just the same old revolving door back to prison. The problem with individual services working with ‘their’ service users in one area of need is that almost none of these ex-offenders has a single need; they need to have help to look at the whole picture, across housing, employment, drug and alcohol addictions, relationships with families and their own health and well-being, to stand a proper chance of going straight,” said Commissioner Holloway.
“That’s the whole premise of the Direction service as well as connecting all those organisations out there who can offer quality services to help and who may not know each other exist.
“The help of former prisoners, including lifers, has been immeasurably useful as it’s no good us deciding what should be online and how it should be offered, we needed to listen,” said the PCC.
Launching Direction on the first anniversary of the Signpost service to support victims of crime, which she set up on April 1 2018, the PCC has based the new support service for former offenders on the same model – an online directory of available services and a call centre team of specialists
“Just as Signpost provided a one-stop shop for victims, I’m now working with a number of our key partners to offer the same for ex-offenders who want to seek a new path,” said the Commissioner.
As part of the launch, she pressed a button to send the brand new Direction website live. It hosts a directory of all the key agencies and organisations in Bedfordshire that offer support and advice for ex-offenders, their families and friends. The website can now be accessed at: https://directionforbedfordshire.co.uk/.
Bedfordshire-based criminal justice charity YouTurn Futures is working in partnership with the Commissioner to deliver the scheme. Director Stuart Smith said: “Direction is an innovative approach to reducing reoffending across Bedfordshire. It provides a central hub for statutory, voluntary and community agencies to work together for an ex-offender and deliver a joined up approach in tackling the drivers of offending behaviour in order to reduce reoffending and make Bedfordshire a safer place.”
Direction Hub Lead, Neill Waring, added: “We want to help former offenders to find the right professional knowledge and networks for them, and can also help concerned parents, partners or friends to find support for their loved ones.”
The post funded by Commissioner Holloway is one of two co-ordinator posts, held by Jackie Gordon and Lauren Cox.
“In previous roles I would be frustrated that offenders may be in a place where they are ready for change but don’t have the tools to actually help them. Former offenders can lose hope if they are pulled from pillar to post by different services, I hope that through Direction we can make the right connections for more positive results,” Jackie commented.
The Direction service works with former offenders and partners including the Department for Work and Pensions, the national Probation Service and Community Rehabilitation Company, to support changes in behaviour and remove issues which influence re-offending. This support can range from assistance in finding accommodation, being supported through training and education and seeking employment opportunities.
Judge Patrick Perusko, who attended the launch event, commented: “A number of those involved in the family court have parents who are offenders, and often still in custody at the time they are going through proceedings. An initiative such as Direction, to support offenders on their release and getting involved in things like education, employment and reintegration to sustain family life is clearly something that any family judge is going to support.”
The website also provides a full directory of services for former offenders ranging from financial advice to drug and alcohol services.
“This is just the beginning as I will also be seeking options for proceeds of crime to be invested into the service via YouTurn Futures to build the services we can make available,” Commissioner Holloway stated.
The call centre staff at Direction can be accessed on 01582 721010.