Coronavirus: update from Switchback

By March 17, 2020March 30th, 2020No Comments

17 March 2020

Since the outbreak of the Covid-19, Switchback has been putting plans in place to ensure we can continue to provide vital support for young men leaving prison while keeping our staff and everyone we are connected with safe. This is an update for our friends, partners, supporters, funders and Trainees on how Switchback is responding to this crisis.

This is a worrying time for everyone, not least people in overcrowded prisons preparing for release into a global pandemic. Many prison-leavers are likely to be at particular risk of Coronavirus due to high incidence of health conditions, homelessness and limited access to finance. People leaving prison are often anxious in normal times about adapting to life on the outside and face huge challenges getting the support they need. This will likely be greatly amplified by the Coronavirus outbreak, accompanying restrictions on travel and social contact, and the likely disruption to core support services.

Switchback’s number one concern is the safety and wellbeing of Switchback Trainees. We want to do everything we can to continue supporting young men to build a stable life through intensive 1-to-1 support on both sides of the prison gate and real-work training after release. However, new government guidance for social distancing places significant restrictions on our ability to do this, including:

  • We will be unable to go into prisons to meet and support young men pre-release.
  • We have closed our Spitalfields office and need to maintain physical distance from Trainees with staff working from home.
  • Most of our training and employer partners in the hospitality industry will be closed.
  • There will likely be significant disruption to statutory services like housing, benefits, banking and health care on which prison-leavers depend.

For as long as these measures are in place, Switchback, like many charities, cannot operate our normal model and there will be significant disruption to the ways in which we work and the number of people we can work with. Switchback has always been resourceful and we will now redouble our efforts. Creativity will be required to reach and support young prison-leavers and we will radically adapt our approach to meet this need while adhering to government guidance and taking seriously our responsibility to the safety and wellbeing of our Trainees, staff and fellow citizens. Steps we are taking include:

  • Reaching into prisons in new ways. While Switchback Mentors can no longer enter prisons we will be writing to men encourage self-referrals and we will provide pre-release support via phone calls, where possible, and letters instead of meetings.
  • Use of technology. The Switchback team is working remotely from home and we are planning the provision of smartphones or tablets for Trainees to facilitate 1-to-1 support and action planning after release by video call. We are also exploring online learning and education options in place of real-work training.
  • Health and wellbeing. We are providing enhanced support in this area to ensure Trainees can manage their mental and physical health at this time of high anxiety, including regular time in nature and finding safe ways to help others in their communities.
  • Collaborating with others. We are working with probation services to accept referrals directly to Switchback upon release and speaking to other charities about coordinating our support.
  • Protecting access to key services. We are working with local services, partners and government to ensure enhanced access for prison-leavers to vital health, housing and benefits services.

We are very grateful to the funders who have already taken a supportive and flexible stance in light of this national emergency, including the London Funders group. We would also like to thank those, like Clinks and NCVO, who are providing invaluable advice and support to our sector. Finally, we want to express our solidarity with everyone living or working in prisons, as well as our friends in hospitality and other industries facing huge uncertainty.

This crisis is affecting everyone in different ways and represents a particular risk of harm to some of society’s most vulnerable people. We are committed to representing young prison-leavers in confronting this and will be seeking to influence the policy and practice of government, prisons, probation and others in how they respond.

Additionally at Switchback we will, as ever, commit to finding a silver lining. So we’re aiming to ensure this period can also lead to improvements in the way we, and the justice system as a whole, operate in the long run. We want to collaborate with others as much as possible to make sure some real good can emerge the other side. Please get in touch if you want to work together or support us to do this.

If you have any questions about Switchback’s response or operations during this period, please email

From Switchback’s staff, Trustees and Trainees, thank you for your continued support.

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