Housing ‘can help break cycle of reoffending’ as inspector calls for more help for prison leavers
Housing and homelessness charity Shelter Scotland has welcomed calls from the chief inspector of prisons for more help for inmates during transition and highlighted the important role that safe and affordable housing can play.
David Strang said that greater work is needed to address the challenges faced by inmates transitioning from jail to the outside world.
Highlighting the case of one prisoner at HMP Kilmarnock, a situation he said could have occurred in any prison in Scotland, Mr Strang told of a man who had been living in a tent for eight weeks since his last release from prison because no accommodation had been available for him.
The man later shoplifted again in the hope that he would be caught and sentenced, believing it to be the only way for him to access a dry bed, warmth and shelter.
Mr Strang acknowledged that returning to the community from prison is “challenging” and said many individuals need more direct support than is always available to them.
He has called for all agencies involved in the reintegration of prisoners back into their communities to work collaboratively “in order to ensure the best possible outcomes”.
Referring to the specific example of the prisoner, who had previously been at HMP Barlinnie, he said: “These are not the circumstances we want people leaving prison in 21st-century Scotland to have to face.
“However, it is not a situation that can be resolved by the prison service alone.
“This requires a dedicated and co-ordinated response by all those involved in supporting people in the criminal justice system and beyond.”
Responding to the prisons inspector’s calls for more help for inmates during transition, Alison Watson, deputy director of Shelter Scotland, said: “Addressing the link between the lack of a stable, safe and affordable home on release and the increased likelihood of reoffending is known to be key to breaking the offending cycle, so we welcome this call by the prisons inspector.
“When in prison, people often lose their accommodation because of an inability to pay rent whilst serving their sentence or through a family break-up. Many don’t have a job to go back to upon release, making finding and maintaining a home very difficult. It doesn’t need to be this way and with the right advice and support, ex-offenders can go on to lead successful lives and contribute a great deal to our society.
“Services focused on housing and homelessness are vital to a successful transition as having a secure home can play a major part in breaking the cycle of reoffending, bringing both social and economic benefits.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman added: “The inspection findings reflect our position, that public services must respond to the needs of people in the justice system, and particularly those being released from prison.
“Anybody presenting as homeless when they leave prison must be given support by the relevant local authority, but we recognise that housing service provision is complex.
“We are supporting ongoing work between justice and housing partners to develop a consistent and shared approach across the country.”