Rethinking rehabilitation in the prison system
A recent report from the Work and Pensions Committee has found the prison rehabilitation system “in desperate need of reform”. The report calls for improvements to be made to the, currently fragmented, support offered to people leaving prison, so that a transition into the community may be as smooth and positive as possible. The report states that currently:
“All too often prisoners face a cliff edge in support once they reach the prison gate.”
In Northern Ireland the most recent figures show that 42.5% of those leaving custody reoffend within one year. Of those who did reoffend, 55% did so within the first three months of release. The Work and Pensions Committee’s report found that if minimum requirements for resettlement are not met upon a person’s release from prison, they are more likely to reoffend. The minimum requirements, as set out by HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Prisons, are:
- a safe place to sleep, from the day of release;
- access to enough money to meet basic needs including food, clothing and transport;
- a sense of hope for the future;
- active links to other services that can assist them with other needs, for example substance misuse and mental health services.
Housing reduces reoffending rates
The Work and Pensions Committee highlights secure accommodation as key to reducing reoffending. The report provides accounts of homelessness being directly related to a person committing another offence, as when a vulnerable person is released from custody but have nowhere to go, they may reoffend just so they have access to some form of accommodation. The Committee also go on to discuss how a safe and permanent home is required to access other positive outcomes which have been shown to reduce reoffending:
“[w]ithout a fixed address, prison leavers struggle to set up a bank account, receive benefits and apply for jobs”.
Housing Rights’ support in prisons
Housing Rights run a specialist housing advice and information service in prisons to help those in custody with any housing issues they may have throughout their time in custody, from entering to leaving custody. The advisers can guide people on how to sustain their tenancy, housing options available to them and housing benefit queries, for example. In order to enhance the service, we also train Peer Prisoner Housing Advisers to help the Housing Rights’ staff reach more people who need advice.
In addition, Housing Rights’ award-winning Beyond the Gate service aims to provide continued advocacy for released prisoners in housing need. The project provides tailored support pre-release and post-release to aid the person’s transition back into independent living, creating links with other relevant support agencies. By supporting clients who may otherwise find it difficult to cope post-release, the project has been able to ensure longer-term tenancy sustainment and a reduction in reoffending.