At the beginning of lockdown we warned that COVID-19 would shine a light on structural inequalities, and we feared it would deepen the level of trauma, poverty and unmet need in our most deprived communities. We highlighted that lessons from disasters like Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans may offer some solutions to police approaches, and we asked government and sentencers to save lives by restricting the use of short prison sentences for non-violent crimes.
During these frenzied months of policy demands and operational pressure, we chose to listen and expand our understanding of how people in the revolving door experienced lockdown. Without ready access to a crystal ball, we had to start asking people how they were coping. As government faces multiple lobbies and pressure from numerous sectors, the people we work with are often marginalised or forgotten about. Given all the strains on our public services that risk of marginalisation continues to grow.
Throughout June and July, we surveyed people that had a combination of regular contact with the justice system, combined with mental ill-health, substance use, domestic violence and/or homelessness. We got 57 responses. We interviewed 3 people in depth to understand more about their circumstances. We also spoke to over 70 people in our lived experience forums to assess their experience of daily life, getting by, and accessing services.
People are struggling to pay for daily necessities, and lockdown restrictions meant that over 40% struggled to get to the shops. They are accessing foodbank with greater regularity. More than half of respondents (54%) were already out of work before the pandemic. Almost 70% were in receipt of Universal Credit.
"I’ve been trying to gain employment through lived experience…they sorted me a position as a support worker but then lockdown happened and it got postponed and I still haven’t heard if I can start that position or if it’s still available, no one’s come back to me…and because that got postponed things started getting worse at home…it was really crap, I’m the sort of person who likes knowing what’s going [on]." - Amanda
People are anxious about the future, and how they will get the support they need to get by. Daily anxiety has been heightened, compounded by a lack of access to and consistency from local services. Those unfortunate enough to leave prison during lockdown are having to navigate last minute changes to resettlement plans, whilst accessing GP services and/or receiving support for substance use has been difficult for many.
“When the lockdown came in a lot of people in treatment failed. There was no meetings for us to go to, there was no groups…our one to one sessions with our key workers all stopped, it was pure lockdown boredom…” - Michael
"I’ve lost a lot of weight…stress, the anxiety about what’s going on and then being in your house all day, drinking became a problem again, I started going back to what I used to… my room in supported accommodation is smaller than a prison cell – I was just looking at four walls, I didn’t know what to do." - Daniel
People have struggled to maintain connections with friends and other support networks. Half of the people we spoke to had almost never felt close to anyone during lockdown, and they almost never felt relaxed. The increased isolation is leading to worsening mental health, and for some it has led to a lack of access to support services. Some people are turning to drink and drugs as a coping mechanism. This combined with repeated stories of the inaccessibility of mental health services is a recipe for disaster.
“My GP can’t really do anything [about mental health] until it goes back to face to face appointments, I’ve only ever been told to take my medication and carry on…’ - Amanda
“That [the lockdown] affected my mental health in a big way…everything I wanted to do was put on hold because of the lockdown.” - Michael
The stability of housing has been a considerable focus during lockdown, and rightly so. But people in the revolving door were living in precarious housing situations, having to move out frequently and with short notice, exacerbating their risk of homelessness. For some, the lockdown meant they needed to escape domestic violence, for others the lack of a permanent address is far too commonplace.
"I lost everything in the home and because of got no friends of family or anything left, I’m relying on myself a hell of a lot and my mental health has deteriorated…It was really stressful, it was like it was a different country…leaving the prison was so scary, seeing people with a mask on was like watching a film." – Rob
"There’s no privacy whatsoever [in supported accommodation]… I’m the only white female there…it’s detrimental to my mental health, it’s like being in an open prison…I’m keeping up my bids [for other properties]." - Amanda
People in the revolving door are seen as ‘hard to reach’ by services. We know that systems and services need to become increasingly flexible if they are going to have an impact. Many reported difficulties in accessing even basic services. Our research indicates that whilst some will benefit from phone contact, others will not. Further still, some will instead engage better through home visits or group activities. There should be a range of options available and service users should be presented with choices.
"We drew up a little plan and then the COVID happened so we couldn’t do that plan it was just like a weekly check-in, it was a nightmare that way. Everything stopped in prison, we were basically locked up for 23 hours a day, it was hell in there, but I don’t like mixing with people, so I liked not having contact." - Rob
"I couldn’t get my head into the online stuff; I’ve never really been into online anything…we’re not used to doing it over the phone on a little screen." - Michael
"I didn’t like it by video link…there’s no personal thing about it …on a video they can’t see your demeanour, clothes, energy…no one can see your expressions…it’s a big thing, when you speak to someone on the phone they can’t see how you feel and your eyes…they just hear your voice." - Daniel
Read the full report which details all our findings to date.
Throughout lockdown, we surveyed people that had a combination of regular contact with the justice system, combined with mental ill-health, substance use, domestic violence and/or homelessness. This report details what we learnt about their experiences and how they were coping.