Home truths: housing for women in the criminal justice system, says that the failure to solve a chronic shortage of suitable housing options for women who offend leads to more crime, more victims and more unnecessary and expensive imprisonment.
6,700 women were released from prison in England and Wales in the year to March 2016. Without stable housing, how can they be expected to engage in employment and training, access support services, re-establish contact with children and families, and integrate successfully into the community. Inadequate provision of appropriate and safe accommodation increases the risk of reoffending.
Ministry of Justice figures show that 45% of women are reconvicted within one year of leaving prison. This rises to 58% for those on sentences of less than 12 months.
The report reveals a lack of clarity and consistency about responsibility for the housing of women offenders. It found limited suitable accommodation options for women, especially those with additional vulnerabilities such as substance misuse, mental health problems, and domestic abuse.
Research suggests that women are more likely than men to lose their accommodation whilst in custody with around a third of women in prison losing their homes. The report found that women in prison were not being given enough advice and support to keep their tenancies. It echoes concerns raised in a recent inspection of HMP Bronzefield, as well as the Communities and Local Government select committee inquiry into homelessness.
A support worker from the charity Women in Prison said:
“We are aware of a woman who had been imprisoned for theft, subsequently released homeless, was recalled for breach of Anti-Social Behaviour Order for sleeping in a park and then later released homeless again.”
Women may find themselves declared intentionally homeless by local authorities, deemed ineligible for housing, or cut off from housing benefit and evicted for rent arrears whilst in custody. Women are usually imprisoned further from their homes than men, and can experience greater difficulty in establishing a local connection that is a precondition for local authority housing.
While the statutory and policy frameworks differ in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, housing for women in the criminal justice system is a major problem across the UK.
Action is needed to ensure women in prison receive timely advice and information about their housing options and support to apply for housing and to sustain tenancies. Effective interagency communication and partnership between housing providers, women’s prisons, probation services and local authorities is essential, as is more supported accommodation for women.