Many individuals are homeless when they enter prison and even more are when they leave
Widespread homelessness and a lack of suitable housing is jeopardising the rehabilitation of offenders, according to a report by HMI Probation published today: Accommodation and support for adult offenders in the community and on release from prison.
Inspectors found individuals who were released from prison into unstable accommodation were significantly more likely to re-offend, be sentenced for another crime or be back behind bars.
Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said:
“Many individuals are homeless when they enter prison and even more are when they leave. Individuals need a safe place to call home – it gives them a solid foundation on which to build crime-free lives.
It is difficult for probation services to protect the public and support rehabilitation if individuals are not in stable accommodation.
A stable address helps individuals to resettle back into the community: to find work, open a bank account, claim benefits and access local services.”
Ministry of Justice figures show 11,435 people were released from prison into homelessness in 2018-2019, and 4,742 homeless people started community sentences in the same period.
Inspectors were “particularly disturbed” to find a high rate of homelessness among cases supervised by the National Probation Service (NPS), which manages the highest-risk offenders. Over 3,700 individuals managed by the NPS, many of them convicted of sexual or violent offences, left prison homeless in 2018-2019.
The Inspectorate also followed the fortunes of 116 people in the year after they were released from prison:
- 16 per cent were still homeless after 12 months and 15 per cent were in unsettled housing
- 63 per cent of those released into unsettled accommodation were recalled or resentenced to custody within a year, compared to 35 per cent who had settled accommodation
- 65 per cent of those released into unsettled accommodation had reoffended, compared to 44 per cent who had settled accommodation.
Mr Russell said:
“There is no cross-government approach for the accommodation of offenders. The Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government need to work together to develop a national strategy that supports public protection and offender rehabilitation. The coronavirus lockdown has further highlighted the urgent need to ensure housing for this often-vulnerable group.
My recent review of the case of Joseph McCann noted the importance of appropriate housing for high-risk offenders. Probation services were unable to find a bed for him in approved premises on two occasions and he ended up in unsuitable housing that did not allow for close monitoring and management.
In today’s report, I emphasise again the need to increase beds in approved premises and bail support hostels, and to ensure people are not moved on until appropriate accommodation is available.”
Poor quality accommodation
The Inspectorate partnered with a consultancy to use people who had been through the criminal justice system themselves to interview 75 current service users about their experiences. Individuals commented on the poor quality of accommodation and some felt unsafe where they were placed. In one example, a woman was released back into her abusive partner’s home despite expressing worries about her own safety. She told inspectors: “I didn’t have any other choice”.
Other service users told the Inspectorate:
- “They kept recalling me for seven years because I kept reoffending to get put back inside as I couldn’t get accommodation.”
- “I hate jail, I would never wish it on anyone but 100 per cent it was more comfortable.”
- “Once I split up with my partner and went to the council and they said there was nothing they could do. It destroyed me. I was living out of my car, it was freezing. You’re just not cared about.”
Service users felt that supported housing offered them a better chance of succeeding:
- “It’s just when I come out of prison, I feel lost in a big world.”
- “[I] need to be busy to keep me away from trouble.”
- “It’s not only the accommodation, you need the support around the accommodation.”
Previously, probation services directly co-commissioned accommodation and associated services that supported individuals leaving prison up to the point where they could manage their own tenancies. This ended when the Supporting People commissioning arrangements changed in England in 2009.
Funding now goes to local authorities, but the money is not ring-fenced. Consequently, spending on services that would have been covered by Supporting People fell by 59 per cent in real terms in the subsequent five years.
In some regions, local authorities are prioritising other groups leading to the closure of offender-specific projects. During the inspection, which took place before lockdown, inspectors were informed of the loss of 90 beds in Kent and 14 beds in Middlesbrough.
Some positive practice
Inspectors did find some positive practice across the country:
- the Single Homeless Project, commissioned by the Ministry of Justice and funded through the London Community Rehabilitation Company, delivers the HAWK housing advice service in 25 targeted London boroughs with 15 advice workers co-located full-time in NPS probation offices. They work with a team of staff who have expertise in accessing the private rented sector, and colleagues who provide a floating support service to enable individuals to access and retain their tenancies. In 2018-2019 they achieved housing outcomes for 785 individuals, enabling 232 individuals to obtain private rented tenancies, 226 to maintain their tenancies, 231 to access temporary accommodation, 63 to move into supported accommodation and 33 to obtain social housing.
- the NPS is working with a provider of housing support services to help service users access rented accommodation in Hull and East Riding. Two NPS staff manage referrals and provide pre-tenancy training courses, while a third colleague provides support with housing-related issues. The project also receives funding from the local authority. In the first two years of the project, 202 service users have been housed and 114 remain in settled accommodation
- in Luton, individuals who are under the supervision of Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire Cambridgeshire & Hertfordshire Community Rehabilitation Company can be referred to Key Stage. The scheme matches individuals with 62 units in shared properties. Extra support is provided by staff with criminal justice experience and includes help with budgeting, engaging with support services, and recreational activities. If individuals do well, they are helped to progress into their own tenancies.
Thanks to Krys Amon for permission to use the header image which is published on Unsplash. You can see Krys’ work here.