ON THE GROUND: Link Worker Scheme

Scheme: An experimental project with teams in London and south Buckinghamshire which provides support for short-term and remand prisoners with multiple needs

Funding: Receives £800,000 a year with the majority of support coming from charitable trusts and statutory agencies in London and Buckinghamshire. Central government provides 6 per cent of funding.

Objectives: To demonstrate a new approach to resettling prisoners into the community

Chronic offenders who are in and out of prison and slip through the support net of police, prison and social services are the target group of the Link Worker Scheme. The Revolving Doors Agency was conceived in 1993 on a proposal from the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders to stop this cyclical pattern. Start-up funding came from an ITV Telethon and the agency launched the Link Worker Scheme in 1997.

"Services are not assertive or preventative enough, and because they are so over-stretched, they put up barriers to some people,

said Revolving Doors' chief executive Crispin Truman.

Teams of four link workers based in Islington, Ealing, Tower Hamlets and south Buckinghamshire aim to breach this divide. The workers are full-time mental health professionals, who share equal responsibility for a caseload of 50 people per site.

In a typical week, workers go to police stations to provide advice to offenders, run one-to-one surgeries in prisons, arrange home visits and give workshops for the police and probation service. Long-term casework with individual offenders usually lasts for up to two years.

The police, court or prison staff refer short-term and remand prisoners or those in danger of being sentenced to a Link Worker site. Most of the offenders suffer from personality disorders, substance addiction, psychosis or a neurotic disorder.

The frontline work allows Revolving Doors to evaluate its findings and produce award-winning research. The impact of the scheme is hard to quantify. However, a cost-effectiveness survey carried out by the London School of Economics demonstrated no increase in costs such as temporary housing or misuse of police or emergency service time by multiple offenders.

Revolving Doors is using the scheme to develop a model that can be contracted out to voluntary and statutory agencies to generate a revenue stream which will eventually replace charitable funding.

The agency is using the research findings as an instrument with which to influence government policy for this disaffected and sidelined group.

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