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A lack of housing is undermining efforts to cut rates of re-offending in the UK.

The problem is particularly acute for youth offenders and women leaving custody and cited as a factor in these groups re-offending and returning to custody. Two recent reports have made recommendations for councils, probation workers and charities to do more to support rehabilitation efforts.

Young offenders face housing difficulties

Research by social justice charity Nacro and youth homelessness charity Centrepoint found that young offenders face significant difficulties in accessing suitable housing, leading to a heightened risk they will continue to be involved in crime.

The study showed that resettlement planning before young people leave custody was of poor quality and effective partnerships between the secure estate and probation services in planning young people’s release was lacking.

Practitioners, however, blamed workload and insufficient resources for the failure to provide meaningful support.

Importance of safe and sustainable accommodation

The Nacro/Centrepoint document stated: “Identifying safe and sustainable accommodation is critical to effective resettlement and provides a crucial building block towards supporting young people to desist from criminal behaviour.”

It found a lack of appropriate housing was coupled to high reoffending rates and meant young offenders missing out on accessing a home detention curfew (HDC), which can help them move from custody into the community to access work and training placements.

More support needed for young offenders

Based on interviews with young custody leavers aged 18-25 and youth justice and housing professionals, the report calls on the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to work with the Ministry of Justice to guarantee the first month of rent for young adults leaving custody. It also called for the two government departments to fund training for young people leaving custody on managing a tenancy and to provide mentors to help young people avoid eviction.

Councils are being called on to ensure advice on emergency financial support, and the DWP to give young adult offenders the chance to prepare a claim for Universal Credit before they leave custody.

Housing crisis hits women prisoners hard

A second report, from the Prison Reform Trust and Women in Prison, says a chronic shortage of housing is a critical factor in seeing women released from prison returning to custody. The “Home truths: housing for women in the criminal justice system” found that housing support is often an after-thought consideration in the release process and that accurate data on where women go after release is lacking.

Without stable accommodation, women find it harder to secure employment or training, arrange benefits, and re-establish contact families and as a result become trapped in an ongoing cycle of offending.

Recommendations to help women prisoners

The report makes recommendations including an extension of the time limit for housing benefit eligibility to maintain tenancies; increasing suitable accommodation for women leaving prison; and improving access to universal credit, housing advice and financial support services.

Jenny Earle, director of the Prison Reform Trust’s programme to reduce women’s imprisonment, said: “Unless women’s housing needs are met the system is setting them up to fail.”
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