Home Truths

No home, no chance. A lack of housing is stopping women from turning their lives around on release.

Six in 10 women are leaving prison homeless. Women in Prison has long seen that the failure to solve the chronic housing crisis is directly leading to high imprisonment rates for women.

Women in Prison and Prison Reform Trust have produced the report Home Truths: Housing and Women in the Criminal Justice System which tells of the multiple barriers for women affected by the criminal justice system to find somewhere safe and decent to live.

The report was discussed on Radio 4's Women's Hour with Women in Prison's Housing Manager Fredi Lorie, a woman supported by Fredi and Prison Reform Trust's Jenny Earle. Listen to the programme.

Without stable housing, it is harder for women 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.

The report echoes concerns raised by HM Inspectorate of Prisons in a recent inspection of HMP Bronzefield, as well as the Communities and Local Government select committee inquiry into homelessness. At Bronzefield, inspectors found staff were providing women with tents and sleeping bags due to a lack of suitable accommodation for them to go to on release.

The report says 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 inter-agency communication and partnership between housing providers, women’s prisons, probation services and local authorities is essential.

A tent and a sleeping bag are no answer to meeting the housing needs of women on release. Safe, secure accommodation is crucial in breaking that cycle of crime, and all the harm it causes to our communities, to victims, to the women involved and to their families. This report highlights the links between poor housing and bad outcomes for women and profiles ways in which local authorities, housing providers, the prison and probation service can work together to ensure women get the help they need to stay out of trouble.

— Jenny Earle, Director of the Prison Reform Trust’s programme to reduce women’s imprisonment

It’s an absolute battlefield for women who are leaving prison homeless to find even temporary accommodation for that first night. We know of women who are in and out of prison just for a roof over their heads and that the housing crisis is keeping reoffending rates high. Implementing the recommendations in this report would help enable women to take control of their lives and move forward, making an enormous difference to thousands of children, lift the pressure on the courts and prison service and save millions of pounds wasted on counterproductive custodial sentences.

— Kate Paradine, Chief Executive of Women in Prison