On Tuesday 14 June I attended a round table meeting at the Ministry of Justice to discuss solutions to the current crisis in accommodation for offenders. Andrew Selous MP, the Minister who called this meeting, stated he was aware that some offenders were being offered tents and a sleeping bag when released from prison. He wanted to know what is being done to access a greater supply of accommodation. He also asked would it make a difference if prisoners worked whilst in prison so they could accrue enough money for a deposit and rent on a property? Do we need short term accommodation whilst released prisoners get back on their feet? He also raised issues such a discrimination against offenders in terms of access to accommodation and whether devolution could bring local agencies together to develop strategies and services.
I am aware from the feedback from Re-Unite projects that in some areas female offenders released from prison are treated as intentionally homeless and therefore not eligible for rehousing. There is an acute shortage of accommodation for prisoners on release, as there are fewer hostels generally and specifically women only hostels. There is little or no accommodation in the private sector as many private landlords do not want to offer ex-offenders accommodation.
In terms of female offenders the following points were made:
- There needs to be gender specific accommodation, services and support for women offenders.
- Most women lose their accommodation when they are imprisoned. The Minister was urged to promote the greater use of non-custodial sentences for female offenders as:
- many have complex needs and require continued support to address their needs and manage their self-care and offending behaviour
- many are the primary carers of dependent children whose lives are totally disrupted by their mother’s imprisonment.
Sue Payne (Re-Unite Development Worker)