Elisha, Prison Discharge Navigator

I have been at Evolve for the past three years, first as a resettlement worker at Stockwell and then I moved into the Prison Discharge Navigator role just over a month ago. My job involves assessing people who are still in prison prior to release, supporting them upon release and sign posting them to resources once they’ve re-joined their community.

Since starting my role I have noticed how important the role is to the community, working alongside Croydon’s pathway team. A lot of people come out of prison with nowhere to live, no help using new technology, no help finding clothing, no understanding of where to find courses to attend and just general life skills.

Since taking over from the last Prison Discharge Navigator, I have been supporting a person, helping them sustain their accommodation, get weekly food parcels, furniture and clothing items and they are now working successfully with mental health services.

All this work, across so many different areas, helps to break the cycle of re-offending and lets people know we not only support them, but we care about making a difference to their life. I really believe in the importance of helping people achieve their goals and aspirations. It goes so far to preventing future homelessness and builds stronger communities.

“Covid-19 has made things difficult but we have managed to work around this whilst still being able to support those who need it. It’s been a lot of video calls, and telephone assessments as opposed to face to face.”

One thing I’ve learnt is that every case is different and a big part of the work depends on the person’s offences and their needs. Once a person has been assessed prior to their prison release and a risk assessment has been received from probation, I am better able to understand what they need and what aspirations they have.

For people who have higher needs, I put together a tailored plan to provide support and care. I do this to open up extra help to people who might be dealing with drug and alcohol addiction or mental health needs. I can also create a similar strategy to focus on finding work and learning jobs or courses to enroll onto and attend. It’s important that I work closely with other agencies to ensure the person is getting all the help they need so they are less likely to reoffend.

Another aspect of my work is to provide floating support for at least three months after a person is released from prison. Should they need immediate support once they are housed for items like furniture and clothing, I can use the prison discharge budget fund to make their house feel more like a home. I can also apply for grants for any other items that may need to be purchased, to help the customer get more settled in their life and keep their accommodation. When a person leaves prison they are given a prison discharge grant, amounting to £46. This money has remained unchanged since 1996 and is usually supposed to last two weeks until benefits are paid or a job is made available.

As a lot of ex-offenders may have been in and out of prison the majority of their life, it’s important to support them to develop life skills. Sometimes they have had no experience understanding things like grants, budgeting, debt advice and support, housing advice, how to apply for further benefits or appealing benefit decisions.

That’s where I come in. For someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience navigating the welfare system, it can feel overwhelming and scary. With the right support, knowledge and tools we can help someone create a stable foundation which that person can build on.

I love seeing the smiles on their faces when they’re told they will have somewhere to call home, when they start getting the furniture items that they ordered, and them knowing they can get help and support when they need it

Elisha St-Jean, Prison Dispatch Navigator

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