Is change possible? Ex-offenders and Prison Reform in 2018

Helping People to Live Crime-Free

Picture the scene. A man walks into a café in the 1960s. There is an air of frustration and desperation about him. He perches at a table, not really catching anyone’s eye. The café is bustling – it’s a typical day.

People are ordering tea, talking about Mr Jones’ children next door, clinking cups, when suddenly, a curtain starts to blaze – it’s alight! In the panic you notice the man, the uncomfortable, desperate-looking man, making no attempt to hide the fact that he has started the fire. Now there’s a bustle to get out of the door, to put the fire out, to make sure everyone is safe. Thankfully they are. The police arrive and the man makes no attempt to resist arrest. Oddly, he looks slightly relieved as they take him away…

This is a dramatic retelling of a real incident that happened when a man released from prison several decades ago set fire to a curtain in a café so that he could be re-arrested and go back to prison. For him, prison was ‘safer’ than the outside world. The act of desperation typified the issues that Langley House Trust was trying to address when it was set up 60 years ago.

Langley House Trust was formed in 1958 by a group of Christian businessmen and women who were determined to put their faith into action. They wanted to provide housing and support for men coming from prison so that they could turn their lives around, stop offending and resettle positively into the local community. Prison being ‘safer’ than the outside world was not an option they were willing to entertain.  

 

From humble beginnings, with only one project in Winchester, Langley is now a national charity working with over 1200 people each year. We provide housing, advice, mental health and social care services to some of the most marginalised people in our society who have offended or who are at risk of offending.

The people we work with are often deemed ‘hard-to-engage’ or ‘hard-to-place’ because of the complexity of their needs. Some have never lived crime-free in the community before. Some have been homeless for decades or faced long battles with addictions, alcoholism and mental health issues. Many have entrenched patterns of negative behaviour which has led to destructive actions and lifestyles.

In spite of this, we have one of the lowest reconviction rates in the country for those in our housing – under 3%.

The ethos of God’s radical love for mankind and His belief in the inherent worth of all people motivated our founders – and it is still what motivates Langley today. God gives us multiple chances to change and we see first-hand how the people in our care benefit from having a second, third and fourth chance to do life differently. It can sometimes be a bumpy road – not everyone accepts our help the first time round! – but we are determined to help people change their lives for the better, regardless of their history. We work with people of all faiths and none and our services are open to all.

 

Over the years, we have encountered a number of issues that have threatened effective rehabilitation. This has ranged from funding cuts to opposition in the form of NIMBYism (aka ‘Not In My Back Yard’) – communities fiercely opposing the opening of new projects. Some communities have also opposed existing projects despite them having existed for years and supporting hundreds of people to change.

Most recently, the major issue that we have faced has taken the form of changes to supported housing funding. The Government wants to take short-term supported housing (classified as anything up to two years) out of the welfare system and instead give local authorities ringfenced grants to spend on supported housing in their areas.

However, there are some serious drawbacks to this approach. Councils would be encouraged to consider offender housing needs in their areas but they would not have a mandate to provide this. This could lead to offender services going unfunded and the loss of vital offender housing across the country.

Housing is essential to offender rehabilitation. Without it, little else stacks up. Trying to help someone deal with an addiction while they are street homeless is pretty pointless. Reducing the housing available for those being released from prison either increases the risk of homelessness or people simply returning back to old environments where the temptation and pressure to reoffend is high. This is one of the biggest issues we and the offender rehabilitation sector is facing. Our hope is that the Government will reconsider and create a sustainable solution to funding supported housing.

 

Whatever happens, we know that we are committed to stay. Jesus didn’t say ‘I was in prison and you visited me’ for no reason. We believe that #changeispossible.

www.langleyhousetrust.org, @LangleyHseTrust

Rehabilitation


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