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Shocking toll of prisoners released into Canterbury ending up on streets

Almost half of prisoners released into Canterbury last year ended up sleeping rough on the district’s streets, alarming figures reveal.

Of the 109 inmates tasting freedom after their sentences ended in 2017, 49 immediately found themselves with no place to stay.

Now, Campaign Kent is hoping to “break the cycle” by developing a pioneering project to work with a select group of prisoners based at HMP Elmley.

Around half of all ex-prisoners in Canterbury are living on the streets. Stock pic (3565459)
Around half of all ex-prisoners in Canterbury are living on the streets. Stock pic (3565459)

Working with diocese community group Together Canterbury, they will organise prison visits from members of the church to provide friendship and support.

Upon release, it is hoped the diocese in Ramsgate will supply a house for released prisoners and help welcome them into the community.

The landlords of the property will be homeless charity Porchlight, which will ensure ex-offenders receive the support necessary to enable them to stay out of prison.

Case studies from the area reveal the prison system fails to offer adequate provision to inmates with drug problems.

One such man is a heroin and crack user who has been in and out of prison since he was 16 - the age he first started injecting the Class A drug.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said: “Family was incredibly dysfunctional. As children we were scared of our father.”

The man says he witnessed domestic violence and felt home was unhappy and stressful - heroin was his secret addiction and he revelled in it.

This drug made him happy when high so he used it to self-medicate his depression.

After being released from prison in March last year, he was immediately homeless and went directly to his heroin dealer.

He said: “There is no aftercare, and housing wasn’t mentioned while in prison.”

Elmley Prison, Eastchurch - Isle of Sheppey
Elmley Prison, Eastchurch - Isle of Sheppey

As his drug addiction was not properly treated, the man started heavily using heroin and crack again and, living off the streets, he turned to shoplifting to fund the habit.

Chris Thomas, spokesman for Porchlight, says the new project could help break the cycle of prison release, drug use and street homelessness.

“Even if someone has the best intentions when leaving prison, they will often be at high risk of becoming homeless,” he said.

“Many people leave prison with nowhere to go and nobody to turn to. Their past means help is harder to come by and they can very quickly end up on the streets, trapped in a cycle of homelessness.

“But with the right support, they can find safety and stability, and begin making a positive contribution to the community. This involves working with them before, during and after their release.

“By using an approach that draws on their strengths and encourages support from their family and the community, an ex-offender can be given the tools they need to make a fresh start.

“They can also be informed about support available in the local area and how to access it if issues arise.”

“Even if someone has the best intentions when leaving prison, they will often be at high risk of becoming homeless" - Chris Thomas

According to Public Health England, drug treatment is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce drug-related crime, with £2.50 saved for every £1 invested.

It costs approximately £36,000 to imprison a person in this country for a year, not taking into account police, court costs and all the other steps before sentencing.

This works out at approximately £98 for each day served in prison, per person.

n What do you think? Email kentishgazette@thekmgroup.co.uk.

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