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Homelessness and lack of stable housing is landing more released prisoners back in jail, watchdog warns ministers

Lack of accommodation leads to more released prisoners reoffending, report warns

3 min read

Widespread homelessness and a lack of stable housing is pushing released prisoners to reoffend and end up back behind bars, a new report has warned.

HM Inspectorate of Probation found those released into unstable accommodation were significantly more likely to reoffend, be sentenced for another crime or end up jailed again within a year.

It followed the fortunes of 116 people after they completed their prison sentences, with 63% of those in unsettled accommodation recalled or resentenced to custody in the first 12 months.

Just 35% who ended up in stable housing followed the same path.

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.

More than 3,700 such cases, many of them convicted of sexual or violent offences, left prison homeless in 2018-2019.

Mr Russell added: “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."

Mr Russell said a recent review into the case of Joseph McCann, who carried out a string of sex attacks when he was freed after a probation service error in 2019, noted the importance of proper 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," he added.

“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.”

Responding to the report, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "Having a safe and secure place to live is a crucial factor in cutting reoffending, and the Probation Service works closely with councils to fulfil its duty to help prison leavers into stable accommodation.

“Since this review, we have also introduced new teams dedicated to finding housing, are increasing spaces in Approved Premises, and our £6.4m pilot – part of the Government’s Rough Sleeping Strategy – has helped hundreds of offenders stay off the streets. We are also reviewing our referral process to help prevent homelessness."

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