Commissioner Holloway announced her plans to partners at her Offender Focus event at Woodland Manor in Bedford this week (Tuesday 16 October). The invitation went to colleagues working in the field to discuss the new service, which will aim to break the pattern of serial reoffending across the county, which is a priority highlighted within the PCC’s Police and Crime Plan. Those who attended included colleagues from Bedfordshire Police, the National Probation Service, Community Rehabilitation Company (local probation), the Governor of Bedford prison, local councils and offender-focused charities and organisations.
“At the moment there is no single place where an individual emerging from prison or any other part of the Criminal Justice system can go to find out what help is available to them and also have support available from a specialist advisor. It makes absolute common sense to me to draw all the services together as a one stop shop online, for those who want to refer themselves onwards and with a call centre of experts to give one to one support to those who want help to make these connections and that’s what we’re going to do together,” said the Commissioner.
“It’s going to be called Direction and do exactly what it says on the tin; directing ex offenders to all the services they need to have the best possible chance of going straight, from access to housing, jobs and benefit advice to drug and alcohol rehabilitation services in the community.
“The Offender Focus event introduced me to a former lifer - an ex prisoner who will now work with my team to make sure the online service, the way it sounds, looks and functions are what meets the needs of others emerging from jail.
“Why partners are so on-side, apart from the fact that nothing comparable exists in the county already, is, I believe, because we’ve already proved that this works to absolutely transform support for victims of crime, through the Signpost service, with its online directory and call centre of advisors who had already assisted some 2,600 victims of crime between its launch on April 1 2018 and September 4.
“We are going to provide all the same features that made the Signpost site so user-friendly including a translation service in the main languages spoken in the county and a location feature to show ex-offenders, in this case, which services are available closest to where they live,” said the PCC.
During the conference, the audience heard from professionals who were able to paint a picture of the current issues of serial reoffending in the county. Those attending heard from Detective Chief Superintendent Mark Lay, who explained the issues around drug dealing and use across Bedfordshire and how it contributes to reoffending. Alison Harding from the National Probation Service outlined the work currently ongoing to support offenders. Detective Insp. Jackie Holmes explained the Integrated Offender Management and Prolific Intensive Offender programmes of Bedfordshire Police and the charity You Turn Futures, backed by a judge at Luton Crown Court to work intensively with habitual burglars and domestic violence offenders to change their behaviour and prospects.
A link between the new Direction Hub and Jobcentres was announced by Mairead McGeoghan from the Department of Work and Pensions in which advisors specifically arranged for ex-offenders will be in place in all 13 Jobcentres in the Bedfordshire regional area.
“Work is the starting point to a genuine and long term future away from crime so this joined-up service will prove crucial. We also need to make sure that not a single prisoner walks through that prison gate without a place to stay and the means of sustaining himself or herself in the immediate future or we are just setting them up to fail,” said PCC Holloway.
The new service was overwhelmingly supported by partners. “I thought the Offender Focus event was really worthwhile and provided partners with an excellent opportunity to learn more about offenders in Bedfordshire and what works to reduce offending. Many offenders have a range of needs that, if addressed, can make a real difference to whether or not they go on to reoffend and a one stop shop that makes it easier to access services will make a real difference. This is important because rehabilitating offenders means fewer victims, and that’s the objective here,” said Alison Harding.
The audience also had the opportunity to hear about the work carried out by the charity Ormiston Families, whose work in the county is funded by the OPCC. The organisation supports the hidden victims of crime; the children who have parents in prison. Mark Proctor, Services Director from Ormiston Families revealed that more children in the UK are affected by family members in prison than divorce. He later introduced two young girls whose father is in Bedford Prison who explained how the charity worked closely with the prison to show a video of what it is like inside to put them at ease when visiting.
Commissioner Holloway and her team presented the proposal of the Direction Offenders’ Hub, website and support helpline and a workshop was held to brainstorm what services and features should be on the website and the proposal of a ‘hub’ for both specialist support experts and organisations focussing on rehabilitation of offenders to work from.
Police and Crime Panel Chairman, Paul Cain said: “I thought the conference was excellent. It just makes so much sense to join up all of the partners dealing with offender management, and it’s great to see - once again - the OPCC leading the way to make it happen.”