Calls for urgent action to address homelessness among female prisoners leaving jail

Women are being released from prison with just £46, a bin bag for their belongings and nowhere to live, a report has claimed.

Research by a group of organisations known as the Safe Homes for Women Leaving Prison initiative has called on the Government to take urgent action to address the housing needs of those leaving life behind bars.

The Prison Reform Trust, the London Prisons Mission and the Church of St Martins in the Fields, who worked on the project with women’s jail HMP Bronzefield in Middlesex, also want to see targets set for ensuring offenders have accommodation after leaving jail within a certain timeframe as well as it being made compulsory to refer prisoners who have been released to councils if they do not have a place to live.

The report claims finding housing and a job is “vital to achieving successful rehabilitation”, adding: “Without settled accommodation, securing employment, maintaining positive mental health and preventing a return to harmful behaviour such as substance abuse are practically unachievable.”

The campaigners also want to see the prison discharge grant increased to £80, which the report says has been offered as part of temporary release schemes during the coronavirus pandemic.

The report cited data provided by HMP Bronzefield (pictured) which suggested in the first six months of this year, out of around 800 women released, an average of 20% leaving the jail each month reported they were homeless.

The research also claimed findings of two reports which surveyed 194 women from independent monitoring boards – volunteers appointed by ministers to scrutinise conditions in prisons – indicated around six in 10 women overall could be homeless on release from jail.

But this is disputed by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), which said there is no evidence to support the claim.

Instead the department said out of 6,185 women released in 2019/20 just over half, (50.8%) were released “into settled accommodation” and a further 7% went to a bail or probation hostel when they left prison.

Dr Amanda Brown, who has worked as a prison doctor at HMP Bronzefield for five years and has been wit the NHS for 40, said: “This situation has shocked me more than any other aspect of my working life.

“I find it deeply distressing that so many of the women I meet are repeatedly released to homelessness.

“By far, the majority of them are extremely vulnerable and come from shockingly troubled backgrounds.”

She said she has been repeatedly told women had reoffended in order to be taken back into custody so they “have a bed to sleep in and feel safe at night.”

While Jenny Earle, director of the Prison Reform Trust’s programme to reduce women’s imprisonment, said female offenders being released without a home were being “set up to fail” and efforts to improve the situation so far had been “patchy and intermittent”.

Last month, prisons minister Lucy Frazer said the number of female prisoners becoming homeless on release was “far too high”.

Earlier this year, it emerged hundreds of offenders had been released from England and Wales jails so far during the pandemic without any known address to go to.

Chief inspector of probation Justin Russell previously warned criminals were “significantly more likely” to reoffend if they are homeless when they are freed from jail.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “These figures are inaccurate – more than 57% of women released from custody go into long-term accommodation or an approved premises.

“But we are not complacent about this issue, which is why we’re working closely with councils, landlords and charities to help more prison leavers into stable accommodation and increasing spaces in Approved Premises.”

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