Alison Lamb, CEO of the Royal Courts of Justice Advice Bureau, explores the resettlement needs of individuals cleared of wrongful convictions. She calls on Commonweal to develop an interim housing resource that supports victims who might have limited housing options and limited support upon release.
The Royal Courts of Justice (RCJ) Advice Bureau has been delivering a support service through advice and assistance specifically to individuals facing a miscarriage of justice since 2003.
Commissioned by the then Home Office, the Miscarriages of Justice Support Service (MJSS) aims to provide resettlement support to people whose cases have been reviewed and supported by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) and referred back to the Court of Appeal, or people already pursuing their own appeal against a miscarriage of justice.
Over the years we have worked directly with 164 clients appealing against their convictions. We support applicants seeking to clear their name and establish some sense of normality post the ordeals they endure during the criminal investigation process. Or worse, after they have served time for crimes they did not commit.
Miscarriages of justice are by their very nature traumatic experiences. The support the service gives can last for many years, dependant on the client’s needs But what happens on release when our client finds themselves standing on the steps of the Court of Appeal? People often have extensive and complex resettlement needs, they may be suffering from post-traumatic stress as a result of their ordeal, family breakdown and lack suitable housing options.
Commonweal’s interest in this area is very welcome. We would like to develop a partnership with them, which delivers housing including an interim housing resource available to clients at the point of release or at a point of crisis. The aim would be to provide ongoing support to people over a sustained period. Testing the hypothesis that stable, appropriate accommodation will help maximise and secure the benefits of other related support.
Evidence suggests there is a clear need to provide a level of care to wrongfully convicted people as a result of the trauma they have suffered and often continue to suffer when released. The months following release can be the most chaotic. Some people will require immediate interim support and others at a later date when unpredictable periods of crises occur.
Those homeless at the point of release face immediate challenges to be accepted as a priority for social housing, often applying to local authorities where they have no local connection because they do not want to return to their hometown. Or they are allocated emergency accommodation in hostels that present challenges and threats to their wellbeing.
Others might experience several moves in their accommodation, staying with family for the first few weeks, moving in with friends, or ending up homeless as they have nowhere to go and the strain of a lack of long-term solutions is too much and impacts on them and their family and friends.
The pull of unsafe options that could drag those more vulnerable to negative situations such as drugs and alcohol may also prove too strong.
There is no doubt from the experience of the MJSS service that improved housing options determine whether clients can access other heath and support services, all contributing to increased chances of more independent living in the future. Housing is a common feature in the resettlement needs of our clients. We believe there would be a large percentage of our clients who would benefit from an interim housing resource as being discussed here.
I challenge government agencies and partners such as Commonweal to recognise the value of such an initiative and commit to funding a pilot. I am delighted that Commonweal is actively working with us to develop a pilot with five to ten properties. We aim to have the pilot up and running within the next 12 months.