250 ex-prisoners given chance to Restart lives
A CHARITY which helps serious criminals get their lives back on track has worked with more than 250 offenders in the past year.
Restart, based in Burslem, gives people just out of prison somewhere to live, and offers support to steer them away from crime.
Run by Christian charity Saltbox, the programme has 40 properties around North Staffordshire where its 'clients' are housed – most of which are two-bedroomed homes in average streets.
These 'halfway houses' have caused some controversy, with residents in neighbourhoods including Fenton and Meir calling for the homes to be closed down because of occupants' behaviour.
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But organisers say the scheme prevents reoffending and therefore protects the public.
Restart manager Andy Boyle said: "The people we work have poor social and living skills, and need to be supported back into everyday life.
"They often have mental health problems, or drug and alcohol problems, and we link up with services that can help.
"We have an excellent success rate. Around 25 per cent of our clients return to prison – the national average is 78 per cent.
"If we don't help them they are still going to be living somewhere, but they won't be managed. Or they will be homeless and have no choice but to re-offend."
Restart, formerly called the North Staffs Community Chaplaincy Project, helped more than 250 offenders in 2012 and currently has 87 clients.
Ages range from 21 to 65, but most are men in their 30s who have either spent years in and out of jail, or completed a long sentence for a serious crime. The average stay in one of its properties is 210 days.
Mr Boyle said he was sensitive to concerns about where offenders were housed. "We are not required to knock on doors and tell people we are opening a house nearby, but we don't keep it a secret," he said.
"Some clients aren't the easiest people to live next door to. If a member of the public contacts us with a problem we will deal with it immediately.
"If the person has done something they can be moved within 20 minutes, or if it is something minor we have a three-strike rule.
"I'm not here to protect them – they have to follow the rules or suffer the consequences."
One of Restart's success stories is Sarah Dowdall, who was released from a three-year sentence for wounding in 2009.
The 44-year-old, who lives in a Restart property in Birches Head, said: "It has helped me massively. If I had gone back to my home town Gloucester I would definitely be back in prison. I had somewhere to stay. They support you every day."
Restart also works closely with Staffordshire Police. Chief Inspector Simon Tweats said: "Reoffending rates are too high. Supported accommodation is key and Restart is an excellent provider that works with the police and other agencies to reduce reoffending."