Departure lounge takes off at HMP Leeds

Departure lounge takes off at HMP Leeds image

A unique approach to helping men released from HMP Leeds to receive the best possible support following their first few hours of freedom is achieving results.

Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) commission services in prisons to help people prepare for release. The initiative is called Through the Gate (TTG), and involves resettlement workers meeting prisoners following arrival and then working with them 12 weeks prior to release with issues such as: housing, debt, education, training and employment needs.

Interserve’s public sector managing director Ian Mulholland, prison governors and CRC colleagues launched three pilots last year to create different approaches to TTG as part of a drive to improve the service.

The initiative at HMP Leeds – called the Departure Lounge – was devised by Nick Hawley, from the West Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC). Based in the prison’s car park, the building hosts probation staff and a range of partner agencies who help people hit the ground running.

He said: “A considerable number of people released from prison fail to make their first probation appointment. The Departure Lounge is the logical answer to that problem. When you leave prison, there’s every inducement for those who have addictions to get sucked back into the behaviours that got them into trouble in the first place. All the evidence shows that those first 48 hours post release are absolutely crucial.

“A considerable number of people released from prison fail to make their first probation appointment. The Departure Lounge is the logical answer to that problem”

“By establishing the building next to the prison it aims to ease that transition. We do everything we can to make that fist appointment meaningful. That includes everything from getting all the information from Catch22 and the prison, and knowing how to sign post people to the appointments that matter to them, through to simple – but effective – things like enabling people to charge up their mobile phones.”

West Yorkshire CRC commissions TTG services from Catch22. The organisations opened the Departure Lounge last July, and it is run by probation case manager Michelle Costello.

Michelle, who previously worked as a resettlement worker at the prison, said: “I love this job. That first contact has to be meaningful. I want every single one of our service users to be successful and to complete their licence. Getting things off to a good start so they can see clear reasons for complying is a vital step if you are serious about achieving success.

“I describe how probation works. I don’t want the individual returning to prison, but I also don’t want them to miss the GP appointment, mental health referral or housing appointment that they need to make to help them gain stability.

“I will meet people halfway. If they need to see the GP, I can meet them for their probation appointment in the community if that works for them and when appropriate. But I need to know that they are complying and that they don’t pose a risk to the public.”

People released from prison must report to probation within 24 hours. If they fail to do so, they can be breached.

Michelle added: “I couldn’t do this job without good communication with Catch22 and the team. The work they do inside to prepare prisoners for release is crucial. For example, they can let me know if an individual has mental health needs, then I know to arrange for services to be here to provide support.”

“I couldn’t do this job without good communication with Catch22 and the team. The work they do inside to prepare prisoners for release is crucial”

Liz Sunley, service manager, has a team of six resettlement workers based at the prison, as well as two peer mentors and a student on placement.

She said: “It’s early days, but we are finding that some people who never previously engaged with probation are visiting the Departure Lounge.
“My staff publicise probation’s numerous advantages and prepare the way. We get the chance to meet people just before release and we are seeing that this genuinely joined up approach is working.

“We find out who the individual plans to meet when they leave and help ensure that initial exit plan is successful. So much rides on the first 48-hours. People do sell drugs outside of prisons. We help mitigate against those risks, and do everything we can to encourage early engagement.”

Nick plans to develop the Departure Lounge by encouraging CRC staff to attend on a rota basis so they can meet their service users at the centre, as well as to visit inside the prison to see service users on their caseload. Partner agencies can also use the Departure Lounge so they can meet CRC service users.