More than half of women prisoners have no settled home on release, reveals new report from independent prison monitors

Short sentences, patchy support and housing shortages cause ‘maximum disruption and minimum rehabilitation’

Lack of settled housing and patchy support for women leaving prison means almost 60% don’t have a home to go to and face sofa surfing or temporary hostels to avoid being on the street – and are more likely to reoffend as a result.

That’s the conclusion of a report published today by the Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs) for women’s prisons in England.

Eighty women were interviewed by IMBs across ten prisons in February 2020; the results show that:

  • on arrival in prison, a quarter had lost their homes and one in six were already homeless
  • 41% said they had a permanent address to go to on release
  • 45% had no address to go to, and 14% only had a temporary address
  • of this 59% with no settled home to go to, well over a third (40%) – equating to one in five of all the women taking part – said they would be homeless on release.

The report describes a ‘rich tapestry’ of rehabilitation programmes in prisons but also highlights poor communication between different parts of the system; in some cases the IMB could not be provided with the data when they asked where the women being released were going, and with what support.

With over half the women serving less than six months, the situation is exacerbated by short sentences –– which means prisons and rehabilitation teams can struggle to provide proper rehabilitation.

The report also identified a gap in what women think they are being offered and what the staff say is available.

A successful multi-disciplinary approach had been taken in some cases, bringing together prison, probation, rehabilitation companies, health, and voluntary organisations both in the prison and in the community; support provided by chaplaincy staff is also acknowledged.

However, overall, the report concludes that the failings identified cause “maximum disruption and minimum… rehabilitation”.

Di Askwith, a member of the IMB at HMP Eastwood Park in Gloucestershire who helped prepare the report, said:

“Women leaving prison have their chances of rehabilitation undermined from the start due to an unhealthy cocktail of short sentences, lack of housing, and patchy support from prisons and probation teams.

“These figures show that the system isn’t working – and although in some areas there were some initial improvements early in the current COVID pandemic, fundamentally there are still major structural problems.

“It’s evident that most prison staff are doing their best but without much better engagement from other agencies and parts of government it simply isn’t having a consistent impact. This effectively sets women up to fail and this doesn’t make sense for them or for the wider community – it’s in all our interests for reoffending to be reduced.”

The report’s recommendations ask Ministers to tackle the short sentences and put in place a joined-up approach across government to ensure women have the support they need, particularly in relation to mental health support on release.

Prisons are required to refer prisoners at risk of homeless to local authorities under the Homelessness Reduction Act but the local authority is only obliged to consider their housing needs and to provide advice and signposting.