Safe Homes for Women Leaving Prison
Nearly six out of ten women leaving prison have nowhere safe to go. Many women are released with just £46, a plastic bag, nowhere to live and threat of recall if they miss their probation appointment. In so many ways the consequences are catastrophic for the women concerned, their families and for society.
That is the conclusion of a new report from the Safe Homes for Women Leaving Prison initiative which exposes a failing system that leaves thousands of women released from UK prisons with just £46, a plastic bag, nowhere to live and the threat of a return to custody if they miss their probation appointment.
The initiative is a unique collaboration of London Prisons Mission, Prison Reform Trust, the Church of St Martins in the Fields and HMP & YOI Bronzefield. It is calling for urgent action by actors across the criminal justice system to combat failings that result in 6 in 10 women released from prison, many of them suffering from multiple vulnerabilities, without access to safe and secure housing.
Between 2019 and 2020, 65% of men and women released from prison without settled accommodation had reoffended according to an HMI Probation report.
Lack of secure housing is a significant barrier to successful rehabilitation. This makes securing employment, maintaining positive mental health and preventing a return to harmful behaviour such as substance abuse practically unachievable.
Many women in contact with the criminal justice system have complex needs resulting from past trauma, abuse, poverty and addiction and are unable to return to their former accommodation as this would put them immediately at risk.
The current situation is bleak. However, it does not need to be this way. The Safe Homes for Women Leaving Prison initiative, a unique collaboration of London Prisons Mission, Prison Reform Trust, the Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields and HMP & YOI Bronzefield has set out a number of vital recommendations for reform.
Why are so many women prisoners released into homelessness?
The 2017 Homelessness Reduction Act gives prisons a ‘duty to refer’ anyone at risk of homelessness on release to their local authority. However, the report finds the Act is failing. Reasons include:
- Too many short prison sentences that result in women losing their accommodation
- Many women need to be rehoused with their children as they are often a primary carer.
- The need for many women to relocate due to domestic abuse
- A chronic lack of suitable social housing, including for women with complex needs
- Many women are imprisoned far from their previous address so lose their ‘local connection’.
The recommendations in the report are the result of extensive consultation with policy makers and local authority representatives; service providers; housing experts; charities and voluntary organisations; and women with lived experience of the criminal justice system. They include:
- A national cross-government strategy to address the housing needs of those in the criminal justice system, including specific measures for women
- A review of the ‘duty to refer’ measure
- An agreed target time period for women to be in settled accommodation post release
- Designating responsibility for arranging a woman’s accommodation on release from prison
- Increasing the prison discharge grant to £80, the level provided as part of the End of Custody Temporary Release scheme implemented in response to Covid-19.
The link between access to safe and secure accommodation and reducing the vulnerability of women released from prison as well as their risk of reoffending is undeniable. It is vital to the welfare of thousands of women released from prison each year. The most pressing need is for a national strategy with adequate resources and joined up working between central and local government to ensure the provision of Safe Homes for women leaving prison.