Ali Barker, Director of Custody at MTC, visited our new Departure Lounge at HMP High Down.
Based in the visitors’ centre directly opposite the prison gates, our new Departure Lounge at HMP High Down has been set up so Novus employees can see all the prisoners being released and be able to provide them with helpful information. The centre is normally run by PACT, who have kindly agreed for us to use the space while the pandemic continues.
At HMP High Down, our services are fulfilled by Novus, and the departure lounge there has been created carefully, so Novus employees are appropriately socially distanced from service users, while still able to offer information and support.
When I visited, two of the employees running the departure lounge knew the service users quite well, one having worked in Education before joining Through the Gate, which lent the whole set up a friendly and supportive atmosphere. One service user was particularly worried as he didn’t have any family connections to go to, and the team sat down with him and provided emotional support over a half hour chat. In this way, the departure lounges have given us real insight into how people feel on the day of their release.
The prison reception discharge procedure can be pretty mechanical and process driven, but the Through the Gate team are now fulfilling the role that friends and family would do. They’re saying ‘it’s great you’re out – what now? What are your thoughts for the next stages?’ They’re dealing with the negative emotions and the service users’ hopes and fears which actually makes it safer for them. They can think through the decisions for their next steps, not act impulsively and on emotions. These next steps can be as small as – ‘where is the bus stop? Where am I going?’
In this way, the departure lounges are offering a key role in that they’re helping service users leaving prison to start focusing on pro-social behaviour and benefitting their community from the very first moment they leave the prison gates.