RECONNECT Hub Launches In Durham

14/06/2023

On Tuesday 13 June, a new hub aimed at helping people leaving prison to re-integrate into the community opened in Durham.

Funded through NHS England and known as the RECONNECT Hub, the facility on Old Elvet is the first of its kind and provides service users with a safe and accessible place to get support with their health and wellbeing needs after release from prison. The hub was officially opened by the Rt Hon Lord Bradley PC (a life peer and former Minister of State for Prisons) alongside Kate Davies CBE, Director of Health and Justice Commissioning for NHS England, and Dr Linda Harris OBE, Chief Executive of Spectrum Community Health CIC. Service users who have been supported by RECONNECT were also in attendance.

Lord Bradley says, “I’m delighted to be officially opening the RECONNECT hub, an important facility which has the potential to make a real difference in the North East and help people who are leaving custody to make a fresh start. By making it easier to access health services and support after prison, we are reducing the risk of reoffending and helping to build safer, healthier communities for everyone.”

Service users can use the hub to make calls, attend initial appointments on release day, get help with practical needs such as charging phones / electronics and pick up forms and paperwork to help them engage with follow-on support. In just six months, the Hub has already provided a space for multiple community groups which support vulnerable adults including Gamblers Anonymous, Alcoholic Anonymous and housing provider drop-ins.

The development of the hub has been supported by local partners including HMP Durham, Durham Constabulary, Durham County Council, Jobcentre Plus and many others.

RECONNECT

The Hub is part of a wider RECONNECT service in the North East, one of several care after custody services commissioned nationally by NHS England. The purpose of RECONNECT is to support prison-leavers in staying connected to key health services after their release from prison, in the hope that this will improve their long-term health outcomes and reduce the risk of reoffending.

Dave King, Head of Health and Justice for NHS England in North East and Yorkshire said: “Improving the continuity of care for people leaving prison or an immigration removal centre (IRC) with an identified health need will make a real difference to individuals and communities. By working with people before they leave prison to support their transition to community-based services, we will be better able to safeguard the health gains made whilst in custody.

“Whilst not a clinical service, RECONNECT offers liaison, advocacy, signposting, and support to facilitate engagement with community-based health and support services.”

This government has made tangible progress in tackling the £18 billion cost of reoffending and protecting the public. Data shows that over the last 10 years, overall proven reoffending has decreased from 30.9%.  Yet despite significant investments in reducing reoffending, in 2021-22, 81 out of 98 public prisons in England failed to meet targets ensuring that prisoners were housed on the first night following their release – whilst 95 out of 99 failed to meet targets regarding employment of ex-offenders. In Durham, only 6.2% of prison-leavers were employed within six weeks of release.[1]

Gavin Arneil, Deputy Governor of HMP Durham, says; “The unfortunate reality is that at the end of a sentence, many people leave prison with nothing – no job, very little money, sometimes no place to sleep and no wider support network. The RECONNECT service was established to change that and provide support so that prison-leavers have a chance to make progress when they go back in the community.”

The hub will be a key point of access for people leaving HMP Durham and other local prisons. The RECONNECT Hub also offers a safe space in the centre to local agencies, welcoming everyone from housing providers to employment agencies, volunteering organisations, mental health charities, social care and drug and alcohol treatment providers.

[1] Employment at six weeks following release – Justice Data

Liam Southam, (Head of Care Navigation at Rethink Mental Illness) has overseen  a team of Navigators since the start of the RECONNECT service, providing 1:1 support for service users for up to six months after release. He says, “When you leave prison, it can seem like you have a thousand things to do all at once – you’ve got to find accommodation, find a doctor or a dentist, arrange somewhere to pick up prescriptions, fill out benefits paperwork, look for a job, keep your probation appointments.

“That’s a huge amount of responsibility for someone who hasn’t been in the community for months or even years, who might not have access to a mobile phone or even a fixed address to receive letters. In launching this hub, we’re bringing those agencies under one roof to make that transition into the community easier.”

Regional partnerships

The new hub has been developed by the Reconnected to Health partnership – four organisations which work together to improve long-term outcomes for offenders in seven prisons across the North East. Since 2019, this partnership has supported 1,292 prison-leavers to transition back into the community with support from RECONNECT.

Linda Harris, Chief Executive of Spectrum Community Health CIC, says, “The launch of the Reconnect hub is the culmination of four years of work; four years of consistent expansion and change as we’ve come to understand more about the needs of people leaving the justice system. In the future, we want to see this hub become a flagship support space for prison-leavers across the whole of the North East.”

Paul Townsley, Chief Executive of Humankind, says; “Humankind is delighted to be part of the ground-breaking Reconnected to Health partnership. The Hub could only have been created and have already seen such impact through the ongoing collaboration between this wide range of partners and stakeholders. We pride ourselves on making the Hub as welcoming and positive a space as we can. In addition to day-of-release support, the Hub’s skilled partnership staff support and engage people leaving custody by providing links to partner support agencies and routes into peer support and mutual aid groups such as Gamblers Anonymous and Alcohol Anonymous. To date we have hosted over 300 people though these groups.”

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