Housing shortage means many women ‘feel safer behind bars’
Source: BBC http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-37433158
Many women feel “safer in prison” because of a lack of suitable housing for female ex-offenders, a former inmate has told the BBC.
“Jess” said she had been expected to “walk the streets all day” after being placed in sheltered accommodation that only allowed tenants indoors overnight.
It comes as a new report suggests six out of 10 women leaving prison are unlikely to have a home to go to.
The Ministry of Justice said it was committed to working with ex-offenders.
Jess – not her real name – served around a year in jail for fraud and robbery and was later placed in housing, organised by the prison, after being released on an electronic tag.
Once the tag was removed, she had to leave the accommodation and found herself without a home.
She then contacted the charity Women In Prison who helped her find a place in sheltered housing.
“The only downfall with that one was that you were able to sleep there, but from, I think it was… seven o’clock in the morning to six o’clock in the evening you weren’t allowed to be in there,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.
“What do they expect me to do? They literally expect you to walk the streets all day which isn’t very good, especially if you’re vulnerable.”
‘In and out’
Jess lived in two further housing complexes before she was able to find a landlord who would accept her housing benefit, which enabled her to secure a one bedroom flat.
She criticised the lack of help given by the prison to help her find a permanent home.
“From my experience seeing other people in prison, to be honest, I don’t think they’re that big of a help when you’re in there.
“I’ve seen girls come in and out of prison when I was there due to the fact they were on the street and they felt safer in prison.”
A report by the Prison Reform Trust and Women in Prison – Home truths: housing for women in the criminal justice system – said 6,700 women were released from jail in England and Wales in the year to March 2016.
It said 60% of them did not have a home to go to and often many ended up in unsuitable accommodation, such as hostels.
The two charities found it was harder for women without stable housing to find employment, claim benefits or access support services, which could then increase their risk of reoffending.
Figures from the Ministry of Justice showed 45% of women were reconvicted within one year, according to the report.
‘Cycle of crime’
The Prison Reform Trust is calling for a cross-government strategy to ensure women receive timely advice and support to help secure housing.
Jenny Earle, director of the trust’s programme to reduce women’s imprisonment, said: “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.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said it was working “extremely closely” with all offenders before and after release.
“This gives them the support they need to find accommodation. However, the responsibility for making sure there is housing available ultimately lies with the local authority.
“We work closely with other government departments to make sure offenders are housed appropriately.”