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United Kingdom : The scandal of ex-prisoners released into a new life – on the streets

isa Kelly waited in the reception of HMP New Hall, Wakefield, on the day of her release in December 2016. Having served a 15-month sentence for theft, she was looking forward to a new life. Kelly, 32, had managed to kick her addiction to heroin and crack cocaine while inside and had also managed to come off methadone. “I was completely clean,” she says. “I came out looking good. I came out healthy.”

A friend from church was waiting in his car outside the prison, ready to take Kelly to Birmingham, where her new life would begin. Having been dropped off outside the probation service, Kelly expected to find out where she was going to live.

But to her surprise, she was told there was nowhere for her to stay. Kelly’s first night out of a cell was spent in the doorway of a department store on the city’s Carrs Lane, with only the clothes she took from prison to keep her warm. “I was homeless from the minute I hit Birmingham,” she says.

“I genuinely thought probation would put me somewhere. I had nothing. I just curled up in the corner. The homeless community saw me and brought over blankets to share. It’s mad how people on the streets help you more than the prison system.”

Within two months of her release and with all the hope she once felt lost, Kelly relapsed and nearly died from a heroin overdose. In May, she was sectioned and spent a month in a psychiatric hospital before entering rehab again – this time, she says, for the last time. She believes things would have been different if she’d had somewhere safe to go. “If I’d been released to a place, I wouldn’t have gone straight back to drugs,” she says. “I wouldn’t have picked up a needle with heroin and crack. That would have been the last thing on my mind.”

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