Development of an older community support network for returning offenders in New York
In August, RECOOP hosted its second US delegate, Laura Roan from the Osborne Association in New York as part of our joint project together with the Brookdale Center for Healthy Ageing, to support the development of an older community support network in the city for returning offenders. Laura manages a number of prison support services across New York State. We were able to showcase our Community Support Café model where Laura joined in a wellbeing group and visited a number of partner services, including Shekinah Mission and an Approved Premises. This was of particular interest to her as there isn’t a comparable service providing accommodation and support within the New York’s state corrections department.
Later in the week we took Laura to our Lobster Pot service at HMP Leyhill and showed her what an open prison looked like. This Category D open facility isn’t replicated in the US. She was impressed with the whole prison approach to resettlement and preparing the men for release and the transition back into the community. The look and feel of the prison was significantly different to anything she’s experienced at home. It was a welcome insight into a different model and approach to managing offenders in a prison setting. Whilst at the Lobster Pot, Laura took part in an ‘Older’ resettlement workshop where the challenges of the population were explored through an audio drama and script. There were some budding actors who took on the parts of the men and family members as we read through the script. Laura was impressed by how the prison staff interacted with the men throughout the prison with their personal and supportive approach.
“The facilities and the RECOOP/BCHA programmes I saw showed me what an actual rehabilitative system looks like – one in which the people who are incarcerated are treated much more humanely. While the UK system is imperfect, it’s a huge improvement over the punishment paradigm prevalent in the US. For example, in New York, it’s typical for people committing low level prison infractions to get a penalty of at least a month of solitary confinement time, whereas in the UK, that sort of consequence would only be doled out to the most serious of offences. Purposeful activities and community connections are given greater support. Corrections staff realise that it’s critical to allow people to maintain connections with their families. I was especially impressed with corrections’ re-entry approach of releasing most people from Category D open facilities. Exposing soon-to-be released people to increasing levels of freedom and responsibility, and allowing community re-integration prior to release seems so much more rational than how it’s done in New York.
RECOOP’s phenomenal work in creating the Buddy Programme, as well as RECOOP’s Lobster Pot at Leyhill and RECOOP’s Diversity Centre at Dartmoor made the biggest impression on me. Osborne is exploring what elements of those three remarkable programmes could be imported into NY, as it is clear that older people found them to be critical for social support, purposeful activities and resources. Since Osborne’s Elder Re-entry Initiative is unique in the US, it’s been enormously helpful to collaborate with RECOOP, which has such a wealth of knowledge and experience providing stellar programmes to elders impacted by the criminal justice system”.
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