Elizabeth Fry House –
an Approved Premises in Reading
I was delighted to be invited to speak at the unveiling of the newly-named Elizabeth Fry House in Reading on 23rd June 2017.
Elizabeth Fry Charity has been supporting women prisoners almost continually for 200 years – ever since Elizabeth herself founded the Association for the Improvement of Female Prisoners. She worked tirelessly for prison reform – inspecting prisons at home and abroad, recommending improvements, setting up groups to help her lobby for reform. In 1823 prison reform was finally addressed in parliament.
Elisabeth Fry House, spotless and freshly painted for the big occasion, offers a safe Approved Premises for 22 women released from prison to re-build their lives and hopefully not re-offend. Placements are offered to women across England and Wales, which suggests an urgent need for more Approved Premises.
Mostly on licence from prison, the women have diverse needs and the house provides support in relation to the nine identified challenges most likely to cause re-offending:
Lack of accommodation
Finding employment, training and/or education
Health issues, mental and physical
Drug and alcohol problems
Debts, benefits and financial problems
Children and families
Attitudes, thinking and behaviour
Abuse and violence
One woman I spoke to said she could never have coped without the support of the team at EF House. She has been in prison twice and still suffers the effects of domestic abuse. It’s not plain sailing, she says. A lot of the girls get out of prison and expect freedom. But there are rules and regulations in an Approved Premises and the girls have to obey them. There are one to one sessions with a designated Offender Supervisor and a compulsory programme of activities and sessions provided by the staff and partner agencies to help the girls deal with their issues and prepare for a crime-free future.
Each girl’s behaviour and any restrictions included as part of their licence or bail are monitored through 24 hour staffing, CCTV, drugs and alcohol testing and curfews.
Needless to say, not all the girls respond well to these restrictions and there can be the added problem of personality clashes. To ensure the girls’ safety and privacy, visitors are not permitted at the House. They can meet friends and family in Reading town centre if they choose.
The Open Day was sunny and bright and everyone enjoyed a hog roast, a wide array of salads and cold drinks out in the garden. HH Judge Zoe Smith, a trustee, unveiled the plaque and I spoke about Elizabeth’s childhood and what brought her eventually to Newgate.
Judge Smith has been sitting recently at the Old Bailey – which made the occasion even more special. The Old Bailey was built where the dreaded Newgate Prison once stood. And it was the appalling state of women, and their children, at Newgate that prompted Elizabeth Fry into action 200 years ago. So we have come full circle and, thankfully, people are still trying to help women offenders. Our challenge now is to reduce their numbers and do all that is possible to end re-offending.