Sussex Pathways was set up 13 years ago by Lewes Prison’s chaplaincy to support prisoners ahead of and after their release from jail.
In more than a decade since, the charity has worked with hundreds of prisoners, offering one on one support, chair of trustees Margaret Carey said.
And now the charity – which Margaret says has cut reoffending rates by 77 per cent – has won the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the highest award a voluntary group can receive in the UK.
Margaret added: “We were just over the moon. It’s fantastic.
“Getting this award means we can put it on our letter heads. It’s prestige really – it’s recognition really that we’re a good thing.
“It’s already making a difference – more people are hearing about what we do.”
Sussex Pathways is staffed almost entirely by volunteers – one of whom nominated the charity for the Queen’s Award. Margaret said each prisoner is assigned a key worker who supports them through the transition from prison to freedom.
The worker will set out a plan for what the person needs on release.
She added: “Somewhere to live, something to do, a doctor, a drug counsellor.”
But the prisoner must want to engage and change their behaviour.
Margaret added: “We work with anybody who wants to work with us. We’re completely non-judgemental. It could be any sort of offence.
“If they want to work with us we will work with them.
“Nobody is without hope and potential. Whatever happened before if he or she wants to change his behaviour or live a more productive life it’s possible.
“People can turn their lives around.”
She said one person who served a life sentence who she worked with still sends her a Christmas card each year,
Margaret has had a long history with criminal justice. She founded the Inside Out Trust, a charity working inside prisons on restorative justice projects which linked people in prison with the needs of communities outside.
She has also chaired the Restorative Justice Consortium (now Council). Margaret served on the Parole Board for seven years, and was a magistrate for 24 years. The Margaret Carey Foundation, based in Bradford, continues the work of the Inside Out Trust.
Keeping a prisoner costs around £40,000 a year according to Margaret. She said that Sussex Pathways’ work can drastically reduce the cost to the taxpayer as well as keeping people safer.
She added: “This sort of work does help everybody. It’s public protection because it stops people reoffending and that protects everybody.”
But she said she wants to see more work done to support prisoners on their release from jail.
The Government said all prisoners get help preparing for life when they leave prison. In the last 12 weeks of their sentence, they’re given advice and support on finding somewhere to live, getting a job and looking after money
Prisoners get additional support if they have abused substances (such as drugs or alcohol), are sex workers and are the victim of domestic violence
Most prisoners spend the last few months of their sentence in a prison near where they plan to live.