Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Kathryn Holloway, has launched a one stop shop service for ex-offenders to literally give them Direction to the services that can support them to change their lives, on leaving prison.
The new service - called Direction - is a countywide initiative to help support former offenders to help lead a life free from crime offering both a single online home of services including help with housing, accommodation, work and benefits, rebuilding family relationships, drug and alcohol dependency and building better health; it consists of a website listing quality support services across the county - at directionforbedfordshire.co.uk - and a free and confidential call centre of specialist advisors, available on 0800 917 5579.
Direction has been set up with the help of former prisoners themselves, including those who have served lengthy ‘life’ terms, to advise on what support opportunities should be included.
“It’s no good me sitting in my ivory tower as Police and Crime Commissioner, deciding what former prisoners want and need to be able to stay out of crime and how this should be expressed. I’m so grateful to former prisoners for their help in shaping the website - directionforbedfordshire.co.uk - in terms of every word written and every service that has been included,” said Commissioner Holloway.
“Our work with former offenders is vital to the success of the Direction service – they've been through the ‘revolving door’ to prison and now want to turn their backs on crime. They can only do this if meaningful help is provided – and every individual’s needs are different.
“The Freephone number will provide really valuable extra support for people who've previously been offenders, but now want to look to the future and a life outside crime. Not everyone has access to a computer or the internet, but it’s easier to make a free telephone call.
“Those answering the calls are specialists in their field but, crucially, they're not from either the police or probation services. Almost every ex-offender has more than one problem requiring support and this is an attempt to look at them as individuals and not statistics."
Direction is backed by a pledge from Jobcentres to provide a representative in every one of 13 in Bedfordshire, and across the border in Hertfordshire, to see an ex-offender to advise on benefits and work opportunities on the same day as their first visit.
“If an ex-offender leaves prison without access to any income it’s setting them up to fail and return to crime as a survival mechanism. I want to set them up to succeed so I’m also indebted to the Department of Work and Pensions for arranging this with us,” said the PCC.
The call centre will be available from 9-5 on weekdays. The Commissioner has funded a full time co-ordinator for Direction to assist its call handlers, and the freephone line is run through the charity YouTurn Futures, which already has extensive experience of working with prolific ex-offenders who want to turn their lives around, for the OPCC and Bedfordshire Police.
Elvis Shaw is a former offender who now volunteers with Reactiv8, which works with prisoners at HMP Bedford both before and after release. He said: “Direction has everything under one umbrella including employability, housing, everything that somebody coming out of prison is going to need. It’s a great support and if you want to change, the help is there.”
Direction has been modelled on the successful Signpost service established by Commissioner Holloway in 2018 to support victims of crime, which also features an online directory of available services alongside a call centre team of specialists.
Bedfordshire-based criminal justice charity YouTurn Futures is working in partnership with the Commissioner to deliver the scheme. Following its launch, 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, said of the launch: “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 Direction website 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 be accessed at: https://directionforbedfordshire.co.uk/.
The specialist call centre is available on 0800 917 5579, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.