People who have been wrongly imprisoned are not getting the help they need to resettle into society, says Ashley Horsey
There’s a problem that has really got under my skin - the rehousing of victims of miscarriages of justice. Social injustice doesn’t get much bigger than a state locking you up and taking away your freedom when it should not have done.
We all know, and the state accepts, that anyone who has been in prison for a protracted period needs resettlement help, accommodation advice and support. They can be institutionalised and may well be different people from those who first went inside. So probation and resettlement services exist to help deal with these problems.
But here’s the absurdity: if you have suffered a miscarriage of justice and are released at short notice, then none of this transitional support is available to you. Probation and the prison service are there for those who are guilty - so you do not qualify.
Taking away someone’s freedom and liberty is not good but then denying someone the planned and programmed support to help them rebuild their lives is a further social injustice. This is an area in which I hope the Ministry of Justice will take action, but until then the situation can be more readily addressed.
The Citizens Advice miscarriages of justice support service based at the Royal Courts of Justice - the only state-funded support service aimed specifically at helping this client group - is currently working with around 45 such cases. Commonweal is working with Citizens Advice to show the benefits of stable housing and a planned support pathway for this group can ease the journey to ‘recovery’ and reduce the downward spiral they often experience, which can lead to traumatic outcomes for individuals, their families and society. In turn, this will reduce the extent - and therefore the cost - of mainstream health services (mental and physical) required.
When talking with a group of people who have all experienced miscarriages of justice, some of which are high profile others less so, the common themes expressed to me were: ‘You don’t even get an apology’; ‘We’re seen as an embarrassment’; and ‘They want to sweep us under the carpet.’
What we can do is test new housing and support pathways, and build up an evidence base of what works to reduce ‘recovery’ time.
As a specialist charity we are not about meeting housing need or solving the lack of affordable housing - we are too small. What we can do is work with specialist partners to try to find solutions to some of the absurdities we all come across from time to time.
Ashley Horsey is chief executive of research charity Commonweal Housing