An enduring crisis
A new report by Melek Bozkina and Professor Nick Hardwick from Royal Holloway sets out to identify opportunities arising from the creation of the new national probation service in June 2021 to improve housing outcomes for prison leavers. The report, commissioned by the Prison Advice and Care Trust with funds from the London Housing Foundation, uses a rapid review of existing academic and grey literature, data from the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) database, and discussions with practitioners and key stakeholders to understand the key issues. It focuses on the needs of single prison leavers who are, or who are at risk of, rough sleeping or living in unstable accommodation in England and Wales.
The report describes the housing situation for prison leavers as a long-standing problem but notes the potential for positive change of three factors:
- The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 placed important new duties on local authorities to prevent and relieve homelessness.
- Some successful initiatives in the pandemic to ensure rough sleepers were safely housed.
- The reunification of the probation service.
Prison leavers, homelessness and reoffending
There is a clear link between homelessness and reoffending; 68% of prisoners released to rough sleeping and 55% released to other homelessness reoffend within a year compared to 42% released to settled accommodation. Those who are homeless at the beginning of their sentence are at a higher risk of reoffending and 79% reoffend within a year. 60% of prisoners believe having a home would help them to stop reoffending. The prison population presents with complex needs that place them at greater risk of homelessness; 15% are already homeless at the start of their sentence.
The report highlights the key structural and system issues:
- There is a lack of national and local visible leadership and accountability for ensuring different bodies work together to deliver positive accommodation outcomes.
- The evidence is clear that some former prisoners will need support if they are to sustain accommodation post-release but decisions on what funding will be available await difficult decisions in the next public expenditure round.
- Shared accommodation with other people who have an offending background may be essential for short periods but could create relationships and place prison leavers in environments that exacerbate reoffending risks.
- There is a lack of suitable accommodation for those with complex needs.
- Access to social housing is very limited and private rented sector accommodation is likely to be the most realistic option for most people at the point of release from prison. Whatever the form of tenure, many prison leavers will need support to obtain and sustain a tenancy.
- Early action is required to ensure prisoners on remand or serving short sentences do not lose their accommodation or develop debt whilst in custody.
- Early, accurate needs assessments are required to create the best chance of obtaining accommodation post release.
- Families are many prisoners best housing option, when properly risk assessed. Work to sustain and develop family relationships is crucial.
- Releases on Fridays remain a problem.
- Lack of ID and bank accounts still delays access to Universal Credit and limits housing options.
- Referrals to housing agencies and local authority Housing Options services need to be made and housing assessments need to be conducted in good time before release. The development of digital resources in prisons creates the opportunity for more timely joined up working between agencies.
Out of all these issues, the report highlights one – the need for effective local and national partnership working with visible leadership and accountability.
Thanks to Dan Burton for kind permission to use the header image in this post which was previously published on Unsplash.