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Homelessness and Supporting People Network feature – Supporting prison leavers

Supporting prison leavers

Joy Williams reports on findings of work on the resettlement of prisoners after their release from custody

The duty for homeless prison leavers will shortly be changing under the Housing (Wales) Act. Prison leavers will then only be found in priority need if they are vulnerable as a result of their time in custody (all other priority need categories will still apply). However, as with all other citizens who find themselves with housing-related difficulties, they will still be due help to prevent their homelessness should they be potentially homeless on release from prison. This will change the way that local authorities and their partners work with prisoners and all partners are currently preparing for the changes that this new act will bring.

With these forthcoming changes and the expected changes with regards to Transforming Rehabilitation, the Prisoner Accommodation and Resettlement Working Group has been developing effective arrangements to ensure that appropriate accommodation and support is available to prisoners upon release from custody.

This article summarises the findings of work carried out from January to May this year on behalf of the group to look at the current arrangements for resettling prison leavers. It suggests ways in which prisoner resettlement can be improved with the introduction of Transforming Rehabilitation, the introduction of the community rehabilitation companies and the proposed removal of automatic priority need status for all those found homeless leaving prison.

The work drew on information gathered from local authorities, prisons and partner organisations during interviews and events, as well as data provided by local authorities and the National Offender Management Service.

Those involved raised several concerns regarding the resettling of prison leavers who were homeless. These included:

  • the tracking of offenders from custody to presentation for appointment with the local authority
  • the resettlement of prison leavers into unsuitable temporary accommodation
  • the preference of a few prison leavers to sleep rough rather than engage with the local authority and local services due to previous poor experiences.

There were also many areas of good practice identified during the work. Several local authorities have dedicated case workers who deal mainly, or solely, with prison leavers requiring accommodation. Some of these case workers work with prisoners within the prison as well as
on release. Several local partnership organisations exist to assist prison leavers in finding and retaining accommodation as well as with other support needs, these projects are funded through a variety of sources.

Three pilot projects have also been started since the start of this work:

  • Female Pathways Project – developing a specific accommodation pathway for women, particularly those who may be vulnerable, leaving custody and obtaining and maintaining secure, settled accommodation initially working with women leaving HMP Eastwood Park
  • Line of Sight Project – a partnership project between HMP Parc, Bridgend County Borough Council and various other partners, with the intention of helping prisoners see clearly their route to resettlement, embracing the community dialogue aspect as well as dialogue within the prison.
  • Prisoner resettlement housing Support Service Pilot – a pilot support service set up to identify individuals who may be homeless, or at risk of homelessness. The pathway starts pre-sentence and continues throughout custody and post release and resettlement. The pilot scheme
  • is designed to prevent or to alleviate homelessness of prisoners. This project is running through Isle of Anglesey’s supported housing scheme.

The findings from this work suggested an overarching recommendation for all stakeholders involved in resettling prisoners to work together to improve communication and data sharing within, and between agencies in order to provide the appropriate accommodation and support services to meet both the communities’ and individual’s resettlement support when returning to communities in Wales.

The other main recommendations for partners were:

  • The development of a set of standards for all agencies involved in resettling prisoners back to Wales.
  • The development of a seamless pathway involving all agencies involved in resettling prisoners back to Wales.
  • Review S180 funding for Prison Link Cymru and considers the most effective way of providing prevention services to prisoners/former prisoners
  • For all agencies to work together to co-ordinate service provision for those leaving custody, ensuring prison reception staff are aware of the need and process to be taken with housing case workers to enable prisoners to access housing case workers at any point during their time in custody and to encourage the sharing of information which may be needed to assess risk when placing someone in suitable accommodation post release.

The Prisoner Accommodation and Resettlement Working Group will be publishing the wider findings of this work and any further information can be obtained from the study’s author Joy Williams at [email protected] Joy is senior project officer for the Homelessness and Supporting People Networks

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