About 12 years ago Shelter Scotland launched a prison project to provide advice and assistance to prisoners. It was a new approach and over the next 10 years Shelter Scotland worked with offenders in five prisons across Scotland, helping deal with their housing issues.
When I began working with Shelter Scotland nearly two years ago, the Scottish Government had just withdrawn its funding for the project, but Shelter Scotland had committed to continue this work in Aberdeen Prison, helping often vulnerable and (on the odd occasion) challenging prisoners.
Fast forward about 18 months and a lot of hard work later (of which I’m afraid I can’t take any credit for), Shelter Scotland was successful in gaining a grant of almost £900,000 from the Big Lottery Fund to continue working in Aberdeen prison and expand the work to also include Perth and Inverness prisons.
So the SPAN project (or Supporting Prisoners; Advice Network), began last month. The great thing about this, is that in partnership with Sacro and Inverness CAB, the project is able to not only offer advice and assistance, but also through care support for prisoners in addition to help for families of prisoners.
A quick (and simplified) run down of how things are working is that Shelter Scotland and Inverness CAB will give help and advice to prisoners’ families and provide the advice, case work and advocacy for prisoners to maintain their accommodation through their sentence, or reasonably give up their accommodation where appropriate. Sacro will then take over and support the person on their release, meeting them at the gate, ensuring they access the accommodation organised for them and helping to access specialist support agencies.
I’ve found recently, when mentioned in conversation, that I manage a project that assists and supports prisoners it can be met with disdain or even anger. My response is that over the past couple of years working with Shelter Scotland I’ve learned how important it is for everyone to have a stable place to call home and the experiences of folk I work with, shows me this is especially important when helping clients who are in prison.
People leaving prison might be facing a number of barriers to them moving on, but making sure they have somewhere to stay often means there is a lower risk of them going through the same cycle of homelessness and offending, so surely this has to be a good thing?
To find out more about the project or if you think we can help you, please contact us on 0344 515 2535 or SPAN@shelter.org.uk.