North London advice and support service, Community Advice based at Highbury Magistrates Court marks its first year next week providing practical help and access to long term support to those who attend court.
Based inside the court, the service in its first year has helped over 600 people from Islington, Haringey, Camden and Enfield. It has assisted court users with accessing long-term support services such as alcohol treatment, housing, mental health services or providing immediate help with practical issues such as outstanding fines and benefit claims.
The service is aimed especially at those who are not eligible for probation support due to the level of their offences such as theft, vandalism, drunk and disorderly conduct, but appear in court again and again absorbing a considerable amount of the criminal justice system’s resources.
A paid coordinator and a team of volunteers at the service help identify and tackle the underlying problems that contribute to people’s offending such as housing needs, debt issues, and drug and alcohol misuse.
The service has made hundreds of referrals into wider community services ensuring those who come to court can continue to receive the support they need once they leave the building. In its first year, the clients attended three quarters of all the referrals made for them and two-thirds reported their issues had been resolved six months on.
Set up by the Centre for Justice Innovation, the service is supported by local magistrates and court service and is delivered by Islington Citizens Advice.
Joanne Thomas, Innovative Practice Manager at the Centre for Justice Innovation said:
“Community Advice is an invaluable resource as it is addressing significant unmet needs of people who are coming to court. There are early, positive signs that it is helping people who would have had no other recourse to resolve their issues.”
Jeanette Daly Mathias, Director of Islington Citizens Advice said:
“In its first twelve months Community Advice has helped over 600 court users with non-legal advice and support in the court after their sentence. This is a unique and vital support service helping the most vulnerable in our society, amidst cuts to benefits and support services to get their lives back on track and preventing the vicious revolving door cycle.”
25-year old Alisha lived in social housing and claimed Jobseekers’ Allowance when she was in court for robbery. She had previous charges but no convictions and was suffering from drug addiction, alcohol dependency and depression. She also had £6,000 in rent and electricity arrears and had been sent a notice of eviction. She had missed her latest appointment to sign on for her allowance due to her arrest.
Community Advice helped Alisha to arrange several appointments in response to her range of needs including her GP, debt and housing specialists, drug and alcohol services and a mentoring service.
Paul was 35 and homeless when he attended court for drug offences. He had a large number of previous convictions and was suffering severe financial hardship: he had no income and owed debts including the court fine he had just received. He was also suffering from drug and alcohol dependence which was affecting his mental health. He had lost his birth certificate and couldn’t apply for the CSCS card he needed for employment.
Community Advice talked Paul through the options available to him and helped him apply for his birth certificate and CSCS card and linked him to extra support for his accommodation, benefits, debts, mental health, drug and alcohol use. Within a few weeks Paul reported back that he was receiving help for his alcohol and drug dependency and paying his debts off with the benefits he was now receiving. With his new CSCS card he was looking to apply for construction work and had started counselling.
*Names have been changed
Notes to Editors:
- The Centre for Justice Innovation is a UK justice research and development charity. It works to build a justice system that holds people accountable, that is fair and feels fair, and which seeks to address the problems of those people who come into contact with it. It is an initiative of the Center for Court Innovation, based in New York.
- To arrange a site visit to the Community Advice service and interviews with clients, Jeanette Daly Mathias or Joanne Thomas, please contact Arsheen Qasim on firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 07918831964 or 02037359436
- A reception event to mark the anniversary is being held 5.30pm, March 9th, Islington Town Hall. Please RSVP to Arsheen email@example.com