As the Re-Unite project grows across England, we check the progress so far of Re-Unite Gloucestershire, being delivered by our partners, the ISIS Women’s Centre
By addressing issues that may have contributed to offending behaviour, the centre aims to divert women away from custody and towards a more stable future.
As ISIS was developing a programme with Eastward Park Prison, an all female prison in Gloucester, it became clear that housing issues were a key challenge for a high percentage of women when leaving custody.
“This impacts particularly heavily on those women with children,” says Niki Gould, ISIS Team Leader. “It’s a big issue and one that we need to focus on because it is vitally important these women have intensive support upon release in order for them to build a more stable life with their families.”
Support around accommodation is something ISIS already offers but when the ISIS team heard about Commonweal’s Re-Unite project, they immediately saw an opportunity for a partnership to develop their housing offer further.
“Lack of housing options is a problem for many women when leaving prison and this offers a structured solution,” says Gould. “It was a partnership that made sense and has real potential to expand.”
Along with housing support, the ISIS Centre offers advice and guidance around issues including families and relationships, substance misuse, domestic violence, mental health, debt, employment and training.
It works with female prisoners to assess what level of support they need before they are released to ensure they build rapport with them and help them transform their lives more positively when they exit prison.
ISIS will receive up to £20,000 development funding from Commonweal to get Re-Unite Gloucestershire up and running. It is set to work with five families each year.
So far ISIS has worked with two housing associations in the area to house those in the programme. Three families have been housed, supporting a total of seven children. A further two women, one with six children and one with two children, are being lined up for support from the Summer.
The programme can help women in a wide variety of circumstances. For example, one being supported by the Re-Unite project is a 19 year old who was involved in the local riots in 2011. She has a young baby who was five weeks old when she went into custody. She was sentenced to four months at a critical time for her to be bonding with her child. Her baby stayed with her parents while she was in prison but she is now settled in her own apartment and rebuilding her lost time with her child.
Another mother on the programme has been in and out of prison over the years, for various shop lifting offences. She has broken relationships with her six children. The intensive support offered through the Re-Unite programme is enabling her to refocus her life and reconnect with her two youngest children, whom she hopes to live with again when placed in her Re-Unite home.
“This process often takes time and seeking tenancies for women with a criminal past can be difficult. But this really does pave the way for a long-term solution. I’ll be looking to work up robust partnerships with housing associations that want to support this service,” says Gould. “And eventually reaching out to other prisons in the region.”