These are unprecedented times. We are all facing challenges and increased uncertainty as a result of the current Coronavirus pandemic. For Pact’s service users, the impact of this crisis is likely to be more significant and longer lasting than for many others. 

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A different world

Prisons are still in lockdown. While some prison Visits Halls are beginning to open again, others remain closed - so the men and women currently serving prison sentences in England and Wales are both in lockdown and in isolation, with many struggling to even make contact with their families and friends. Pact have been working hard to support prisoners and their families during the pandemic.

Most prisoners will tell you that their moments of hope - something they look forward to week after week - are visits from their families. But since March, these visits have been cancelled. Although they are beginning to start up again, it's still a long and slow road back to the kind of visits that existed before. We are continuing to support people in prison, as well as their families and loved ones on the outside, to stay positive, stay hopeful and stay connected. But we won’t lie to you: it remains tough.

It’s not just on the inside that Pact’s services are vital. We are also there to support people as they leave prison. Those leaving during the current situation are finding themselves in a very different world from the one they knew. The 'discharge grant' (the amount of money that is available to everyone leaving prison) is still just £46 and is expected to see someone through the first week after release, allowing time for Universal Credit and other benefits to become active. But with things as they are, this grant is simply not enough. People are finding themselves unable to meet the most basic needs of food and shelter. 

Jack's story

During lockdown, Jack was released from prison into a world he no longer recognised. After spending 23 hours a day in his cell (to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the prison) he was looking forward to his freedom. But instead he was faced with a country in 'lockdown' and restrictions on everybody's movement because of the global pandemic. It was going to be extremely tough.

Jack left prison with the statutory discharge grant: £46 in his pocket which had to last him through his first week on the outside. He had to go straight to his Probation appointment so he used some of the money to travel the distance across town. After his appointment he used some more of the grant to get to the temporary accommodation that had been arranged for him.

At his accommodation, Jack received a parcel from a food bank. Because of the impact of COVID-19, it was enough for just three days. Jack made a claim for Universal Credit and received an advance payment - although this was also reduced because he'd had an advance payment before. That's when Jack contacted Paul.

Paul is one of Pact's 'Through the Gate' mentors. He had been supporting Jack through the last few weeks of his sentence and had hoped to meet him at the prison gate on release and help him make a fresh start during the first few days on the outside. Unfortunately, the lockdown restrictions meant that this wasn't possible. But Paul had given Jack his phone number and told him to get in touch.

Jack called Paul to ask for some support: he had only the clothes he was wearing and a handful of possessions in a carrier bag - he really needed underwear and a change of clothes if possible. Although Jack felt uncomfortable about asking, he shyly mentioned this to Paul. He also told Paul that he'd have to use what was left of his discharge grant to collect his prescription which had been sent to a chemist in the next town. He was worried about how he was going to make it through the week.

Paul listened to Jack and, together, they came up with a plan. Paul contacted the chemist and arranged for Jack’s prescription to be moved to a nearby chemist so Jack didn't have to travel. He also arranged for Jack to receive a £50 payment from a discretionary emergency assistance fund. Together, they found a local charity who confirmed that they would also be able to help Jack. Although they couldn't meet Jack in person (because of social distancing measures) they arranged for him to receive some underwear and a clean set of clothes - along with another package from the food bank. This gave Jack some hope. He felt that he could make it through the week. He told Paul that he'd been "a lifeline" to him in those first few days. Now, he is looking forward to the future and a time when the restrictions are eased. 

Jack is just one of the people released from prison every week with just £46 in their pocket and a series of hoops to jump through in order to begin their new life. It was tough before the COVID-19 pandemic: now it is even harder. Because of your support, mentors like Paul are able to keep working during this challenging time. They provide essential support to people like Jack - to help them through those first hours after release. With your continued support, we can help even more people like Jack.

Pact are working hard to continue to support worried families, people in prison, and people leaving prison, who face a very uncertain future. We urgently need funds to expand our independent helpline, continue advocating on behalf of the people we serve, and to carry on our remote befriending services for prisoners' families. We also need funds to support the Pact team in enabling people to access emergency assistance - just like in Jack's story in this different world.

We can’t do it without you. Your gift today, no matter how large or small, will help. And if you are eligible for Gift Aid, and let us know, we can claim an extra 25% of your gift from the Government. Together, we are making a difference.

Thank you so much for your support.

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