2 years housing on release
Offender Accommodation pilot
The Offender Accommodation Pilot (OAP) was commissioned as part of the government’s wider Rough Sleeping Strategy funded by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and aimed to test the benefits of providing accommodation and wrap around support for up to 2 years; a much more ambitious solution than the CAS3 programme which provides housing for up to 84 nights on release.
The pilot was conducted in three resettlement prisons: HMP Bristol, HMP Leeds and HMP Pentonville and enrolled 324 prison leavers between August 2019 and July 2020 and concluded in July 2022. Last week (7 September 2023), the MoJ published a process evaluation undertaken by NatCen. Outcome data is to be published at a later date.
The use of temporary accommodation ensured prison leavers were housed on release from custody and helped them adjust to living in the community and prepare for independent living. Longer-term accommodation was used successfully when there was commitment from both providers and the private rented sector to house prison leavers. Challenges were identified, for example around the availability of accommodation and when prison leavers struggled to meet advance requirements for private rentals. The provision of tailored and consistent one-to-one caseworker support within custody and the community was seen as a key factor in the success of the pilot. Providers noted that the provision of support had to be flexible, dependent on an individual’s needs, but also that some prison leavers were not able or ready to receive the support provided.
Partnership working and funding
Partnerships were felt to be key to the success of the pilot, particularly where there was good communication, common goals, and information sharing. Challenges with partnership working related to communication, resources, and a limited understanding about the pilot among some partners. Funding on the pilot was generally viewed as adequate, and providers valued the flexibility there was over how budgets could be used. However, provider staff also reported that additional flexibility would have been useful and there was evidence from some provider staff that funding from external sources to the pilot had been sought where necessary.
Ending of pilot support and pilot withdrawals
Among provider staff and prison leavers, there was a view that the optimum length of support was largely dependent on an individual’s needs and circumstances. Prison leavers who were viewed as being ready for the pilot to end included those managing their own tenancies, those in employment, and those accessing support from outside the pilot. Those who were viewed as likely to benefit from continued support included those still in temporary accommodation, those living independently for the first time, those with ongoing support needs, or those who had not been able to fully engage in the pilot.
Full figures for the project are seen in the table I have reproduced from the report below.
The pilot was perceived to have achieved its key aims of preventing homelessness and reducing reoffending for some participating prison leavers. Other perceived outcomes included improvements to physical health and mental wellbeing, increased engagement with support services, better relationships with others, and a readiness to seek employment. However, for prison leavers with crime and substance misuse entrenched in their lifestyles, provider staff reported how it was challenging to break the cycle of reoffending.
A number of considerations to support the longer-term roll out of OAP or similar accommodation programmes emerged from the process evaluation. These included revisiting the assessment and withdrawals processes to ensure the programme focuses on those who will benefit most, increasing the flexibility of funding arrangements, and reassessing how prison leavers’ progress on programmes is measured.
Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here