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The hidden homeless problem for Britons returning from prison overseas

Every year, many people are deported back to the UK at the end of their sentence in prison overseas – often they have lived abroad for a number of years, sometimes decades, and arrive with nothing; no money, nowhere to sleep and very often no family or friends to call on for help.

Our caseworkers at Prisoners Abroad support prisoners during their incarceration, and then prepare them for their return to the UK when they are approaching release. We send information to help them prepare and a needs questionnaire is sent. Then our Resettlement team based in our office in Finsbury Park work closely with each person who needs our support once they have returned to the UK.

People returning to the UK from prison overseas are at great risk of street homelessness and destitution. Our Resettlement Service at Prisoners Abroad helps them to access accommodation, first of all temporary and later permanent, and to access welfare benefits, healthcare, specialist training and employment services. This is crucial work with a particularly vulnerable and marginalised group of people to keep them off the street and provide them with opportunities to change their lives.

Resettlement numbers have continued to increase significantly. A total of 300 ex-prisoners used the Prisoners Abroad Resettlement Service last year. Of these people, 149 were newly returned. The increase we have seen over the past few years is mainly due to changing legislation in Australia resulting in more deportations, and people returning from the US after long periods of incarceration have come to an end. These returnees tend to need more support than others, as they have been living out of the UK for many years and usually have no connections left in the UK, making it harder to integrate into society.

At Prisoners Abroad, individual support is tailored and there are workshops as well as practical support sessions such as CV writing within our Work Preparation Programme (WPP) which helps returning prisoners find work and improve their work-related skills. It also enables them to develop their social networks, build their confidence, gives them independence and supports their integration into UK society. It also includes tailored one-to-one sessions, and also telephone advice and support for those residing outside London. The programme currently runs 1 day a week supporting people during this critical stage of resettlement.

Our housing seminars were piloted last year at Prisoners Abroad and we now hold them on a monthly basis. They provide an often much-needed introduction to the UK housing market. We discuss the housing crisis and its consequences, housing benefits and local housing allowances. We have developed a housing booklet to accompany the information taught at the seminars, it has been published and we are distributing it to newly returned service users.

In 2017 we were thrilled that the quality of our Resettlement Service was recognised with an award of £20,000 in the London Homelessness Awards. The money helped support those who would have been facing homelessness and destitution without our service, and we are using the recognition to highlight the work that we do in the UK, as well as overseas. Three of our service users were involved in the application process as well as being a part of the film that was made to promote the awards.

Prisoners Abroad has been supporting people affected by overseas imprisonment for 40 years and we will continue to provide a lifeline for British citizens and their families during this challenging time for as long as we are needed.

To find out more about Prisoners Abroad work, visit their website: https://www.prisonersabroad.org.uk/

Emily Richards
Prisoners Abroad

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