Beyond Youth Custody

It can feel like you are being set up to fail

Young Advisor
U R Boss project

What are some of the feelings young people experience in the lead up to release?

Everyone seems to be nervous as it comes to release. It is something that you have looked forward to, but at the same time when it approaches you’re aware that there is a reality waiting for you which you have not been a part of. Prison is like a bubble. Officers know they’re dealing with prisoners, other prisoners can’t judge you for being in prison because they are in the same boat. When you are released, you’re returning to situations which were already problematic… usually made worse by being locked away from them and unable to deal with them for such a long period of time, and now with the added stigma of having been in jail and just a nervousness about everyday interactions and open spaces. I remember walking out the gates and feeling really conspicuous. I had gone into prison in summer, when I was leaving prison it was freezing cold outside. Nobody was noticing me but I felt really vulnerable, like an alien in my own skin because I just did not know what life was going to be like now that I had a criminal record and had been to prison.

What are some of the challenges young people face during the first two weeks of release?

For people coming out on licence, there is an immediate requirement to see your probation officer, jump through certain hoops.

You have to adjust to not having the same routine. Day to day life inside is very regimented. Most people have a job or education and it feels like all the hours in the day are occupied. Then when you come out, especially as the process to get into education or work outside of prison can be extremely slow, you can feel a bit adrift.

If I had not had family to support me I know that this time would have been even more pressured and disorientating with a need to support myself financially and also just generally emotionally. Inside prison you grow used to having a number of faces you can turn to at any one time to talk. There is always someone around to distract you with their own conversation and stories when you don’t feel like being alone with your thoughts, coming from living in a “house” of 40 women to being alone can be extremely depressing and isolating.

Are there any particular examples of stories you’d like to share?

When you don’t live particularly locally to the prison that you were in, I feel like the distance you will have to travel to get to your first probation appointment is not taken into account. I was awake all night on the eve of my release, taken out of my cell at 6.30, it took hours to be processed out, and then once I had been released, I had under an hour to travel all the way across London and meet my probation officer. This meant I had no time to eat, change my clothes, shower even. I just had to go straight there. Amidst all the horror stories of probation sending people back to prison, eager for recall, the level of pressure and anxiety was high, meaning it was not until I was in my own bed that night that I really got to breathe and take in the fact that I was free now. I feel like the expectations are somewhat unrealistic and that people don’t appreciate how much it can feel like you are being set up to fail.

In your opinion, what are the most important things young people need immediately after leaving custody?

Primarily young people need somewhere to stay. Somewhere safe and secure. In the appropriate surroundings. Some people need to be returned closer to their family and their community, for others it is the worst thing possible and they need to be away from abusive relationships or people who might influence them in the wrong way. However, this needs to be assessed on a case by case basis. Ultimately people need to know they have somewhere to live, where they can stay, not just somewhere for a few nights, and then secondly they need help to become employed and find away to support themselves, build their self esteem and not feel that they have no other option than to profit from crime.

If there was one thing you could change about the system to improve the transitional experience for young people, what would it be?

In my opinion there needs to be a better degree of communication and connection between the different groups involved in the varying phases of the release process. I think it would be useful for young people to meet their probation worker at least once prior to release so that they know who they will be dealing with and have some bearing on how they work, rather than just feeling like this is just someone waiting to send you back behind bars. I think if there was better communication and working together between these groups, young people would not feel as though they were just thrown out back into the world totally unprepared, and it also might help in continuing any therapeutic or rehabilitative work which had been done during the prison period as usually when you are out the gate these things are ended or people are not effectively referred to an alternative provider… it can feel as though you are just a number being ticked off one list as you leave, and there is little consideration of your individual needs or vulnerabilities to re-offending. That sense of being a number passed off as someone else’s problem now can be very destructive to anyone’s sense of positive change they have made.

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Resettlement of young offenders: informing practice, improving outcomes