February 02 2023

More than six out of 10 women prisoners homeless on release

More than six out of 10 women prisoners homeless on release

Writing home at HMP Styal. Pic by Andy Aitchison

Thousands of women released from prison have nowhere to live, a plastic HMP bag and just a £46 discharge grant, according campaigners. The Safe Homes for Women Leaving Prison initiatives is due meet MPs today in an attempt to urge the Government to stop releasing women into homelessness and poverty.

The initiative is a collaboration involving the London Prisons Mission, Prison Reform Trust, the Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields and HMP & YOI Bronzefield that is committed to the safety and rehabilitation of vulnerable women discharged from prison.

‘Thousands of women leave prison each year with just a £46 discharge grant and a plastic bag of belongings,’ the coalition argues. ‘This puts vulnerable women, many of whom have experienced domestic abuse and trauma, at risk and prevents them from securing regular employment, resuming care of children and achieving rehabilitation. 65% of prison leavers released to no fixed abode go on to reoffend.’

The Government recently announced £70 million to support prison leavers, including a new temporary accommodation service, but the Safe Homes for Women Leaving Prison initiative argue that this is not enough to end the crisis.

‘It is unacceptable that in 2021, thousands of women are being released from prison directly into homelessness,’ commented John Plummer, coordinator of London Prisons Mission and Representative of the Safe Homes for Women Leaving Prison initiative. ‘The Government must take urgent action to end this crisis and the new accommodation service for prison leavers is just the beginning. We must provide for the specific and complex needs of vulnerable women leaving prison.’

According to data published by the Ministry of Justice in July last year, some 6,185 women were released from custody in the year to March 2020 with only half going into secure, long-term accommodation. The 2019 Independent Monitoring Boards report for HMP & YOI Bronzefield surveyed 116 women prior to their release and found more than six out of 10 (62%) would be homeless on release.

The most recent IMB report on women’s resettlement found approximately four out of 10 women had housing to go to on release (41%) and that prisons discharging people back to London had ‘the most difficult challenge to find them suitable housing’. According to the report, a quarter of women interviewed had lost their home as a result of imprisonment, often as a consequence of a very short prison sentence.

The Safe Homes for Women Leaving Prison initiative is calling for a cross-government approach to ensure no woman is released from prison to homelessness. ‘We urge the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to listen to these calls and demonstrate, within their initiatives, an understanding of the very different experiences, circumstances and needs of women in the criminal justice system, which are fundamentally different from those of men,’ Plummer added.

‘The Government is failing to address the staggering numbers of women leaving prison to homelessness,’ said Lord Bishop of Gloucester and Anglican Bishop for HM Prisons in England and Wales, the Right Revd Rachel Treweek. ‘This places thousands of women back into at-risk environments, directly contributing to an avoidable cycle of reoffending. The Government needs to be working effectively across departments, and with local authorities and partner organisations to ensure that every vulnerable woman with complex needs is supported into safe and secure permanent housing so they can rebuild their lives – without it, we are simply setting them up to fail.’