Helping prisoners to find a home on release can prevent them from reoffending.
Break the chain
Tackling offenders’ needs when they leave prison is crucial in reducing crime, and homelessness is one of the most common problems faced by those in repeat contact with the criminal justice system.
The government’s ‘rehabilitation revolution’ green paper Breaking the cycle, published in December 2010, stated that housing is a ‘critical factor in rehabilitating offenders’. As 15 per cent of short-sentenced prisoners were homeless before entering prison, it is right, as the paper says, ‘to ensure that, as part of their rehabilitation, offenders receive appropriate housing assessments, advice and signposting to community services to prevent them losing their homes, or being homeless’.
But just sending people to a housing department alone can result in a futile journey. More joint working is needed to ensure there are effective pathways between prisons and landlords who can provide accommodation alongside the support the individual needs, particularly those with mental health issues.
Members of our service user forum frequently emphasise the importance of a home at the core of a package of support that got them on the road towards recovery - often after years stuck in lives of chaos and crime. One told me: ‘After many short sentences I was referred to the P3 Linkworker+ project [a partnership between Milton Keynes Community Safety Partnership, P3 and Revolving Doors, which focuses on people who are in crisis because of a combination of mental health needs, accommodation problems, substance misuse, offending or anti-social behaviour]. They didn’t just find me a house and then leave me; the support was the right amount that really worked for me.’
Without these partnerships and the pooled resources to fund them, cuts to Supporting People budgets risk reducing the level of help available, despite the huge costs to the public purse caused by reoffending.
Another innovative service that is demonstrating what can be achieved is the Lewes2Brighton project which Revolving Doors helped to set up in 2009. This partnership between the Brighton & Hove Council, Lewes prison, the local NHS and Brighton Housing Trust provids extra support to people with multiple needs in Lewes prison on short prison sentences who were returning to the Brighton area. As a result of this project, 91 per cent of clients had accommodation planned on release - a turnaround from a situation where 94 per cent would have been homeless. Reoffending came down as a result.
These examples show that working together with partners, landlords can play an essential role in reducing crime, making the whole community safer. Short-sighted local politics shouldn’t get in the way. We must work together to achieve the rehabilitation revolution we all want to see.
Dominic Williamson is chief executive of Revolving Doors Agency