A delegation of campaigners led by the Right Reverend Rachel Treweek, Lord Bishop of Gloucester and Anglian Bishop to HM prisons in England and Wales, recently met with Eddie Hughes, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Housing and Rough Sleeping to urge him to work across Government to end the crisis which sees up to 6 in 10 women released from prison into homelessness.
The meeting took place the day after a parliamentary event organised in conjunction with the Safe Homes Initiative (SHI) attended by over 60 MPs and Peers.
Attendees heard directly from women with lived experience of the problems experienced by women prisoner leavers released into homelessness including the increased risk of re-offending.
Speaking at the event, Anawim’s Women’s Involvement, Progression and Curriculum Coordinator, Rebecca Noble, stated:
“We at Anawim see so many women released with £46 pounds in their pocket into circumstances that will result in homelessness, recall, relapse onto substances or other situations which will cause harm to their safety, their ability to move forward and will sometimes cost them their lives. For example, it is often common practice for women to be released in the morning with the expectation that they are to attend probation in Birmingham or Derby in the afternoon. Straight away you are setting them up to fail because if that appointment gets missed, they will be recalled.”
The delegation is calling for action to ensure that the practice of releasing women into homelessness ends by a combination of measures including ensuring that:
- the current ‘Duty to Refer’ to the local housing authority actually works
- every women’s prison has prison officers trained to act as ‘housing brokers’ to work with women offenders pre release
- recent pilot Government initiatives aimed at this area contain women specific measures and are rolled out across the country
- women can access secure and safe accommodation for the long term, not just the first 12 weeks as provided for in recent Government announcements
Following the meeting, Bishop Rachel said:
“Women prison leavers have very specific needs. Too many are put at risk of harm and re-offending by being released into homelessness or into insecure temporary unsuitable accommodation. We appreciated the opportunity to set out our concerns directly to the Minister and we are heartened to hear that he listened closely to the issues raised. We hope that we have persuaded him of the urgent need to have clear reliable statistics specific to women rather than the existing situation which sees so much data not broken down by gender. That’s the only way the Government and the public will be able to measure progress as it tackles this crisis. And we were re-assured that he shares our view that cross departmental working will be essential and committed to meet us again in 3 months so we can mutually review progress.”
John Plummer, Coordinator of London Prisons Mission and Representative of the Safe Homes for Women Leaving Prison initiative, stated:
“We pressed the Minister to take note of some of the excellent local initiatives that have been developed in areas such as Lambeth where enormous strides have been made to get stakeholders working together. We invited him to visit Anawim, the women’s centre based in Birmingham, to see first-hand the work that they do. Anawim provides wrap around support to vulnerable women including providing those released from prison with secure accommodation and advice on rebuilding their lives to reduce the risk of re-offending and all the human and societal costs that can produce.”
Notes to editors:
- The virtual parliamentary event was hosted by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester, and Anglican Bishop for HM Prisons in England and Wales, the Right Revd Rachel Treweek and the Safe Homes for Women Leaving Prison initiative on 23 March 2021.
- £46 refers to the discharge grant given to prison leavers at the gate.
- Data published by the Ministry of Justice in July 2020 shows 6,185 women were released from custody in the year to March 2020, with 50.8% of them going into secure, long-term accommodation and a further 7% to approved premises. Data gathered by the IMBs of women’s prisons and HM Inspectorate of Prisons suggests a larger proportion of women are released from prison to homelessness. For example, the 2019 IMB report for HMP & YOI Bronzefield surveyed 116 women prior to their release, and found of those remaining in the UK, 62% would be homeless on release. The most recent IMB report on women’s resettlement found only 41% of women had housing to go to on release, and “it did appear that prisons discharging people back to London had the most difficult challenge to find them suitable housing.” This report also found a quarter of women interviewed had lost their home as a result of imprisonment, often as a consequence of a very short prison sentence.
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