Released with nowhere to go: housing solutions for prisoners

It has been widely argued that securing adequate housing for ex-offenders reduces rates of recidivism. However, it is not uncommon for a person to be released from prison with nowhere to live and there have been criticisms over the statutory support available for prison leavers, and the lack of housing options available on release.

Being homeless on release from prison can lead to a downward spiral, re-offending and more prison time, incurring substantial social and economic costs for all concerned. The annual cost of re-offending to the economy in the UK has been estimated at between £9.5 and £13 billion.

Housing linked to re-offending

Various studies have highlighted the link between housing and recidivism and the importance of housing support for rehabilitation.

A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) back in 1996 highlighted that ex-prisoners are more likely to re-offend if they do not find satisfactory accommodation on release – two-thirds of ex-prisoners with no satisfactory accommodation re-offended within 12 months of release, while just a quarter of those with good accommodation did so.

The Social Exclusion Unit highlighted in a 2002 study that housing was one of the factors that had a “huge impact” on re-offending and that having stable accommodation reduces the risk of re-offending by a fifth.

A report published in 2012, found that three-fifths (60%) of prisoners believed that having a place to live was important in stopping them from re-offending in the future. It also found that 15% of people in prison were homeless prior to custody. More than three-quarters of prisoners (79%) who reported being homeless before custody were re-convicted in the first year after release, compared with less than half (47%) of those who did not report being homeless before custody.

The Howard League of Penal Reform has highlighted that a third of people leaving prison say they have nowhere to go. If those on remand are included, it is estimated that this could represent up to 50,000 people annually.

Further, the rough sleeping in London report (CHAIN) found that 32% of people seen rough sleeping in 2015/16 had experience of prison, indicating that a significant number hidden homeless are ex-offenders.

Such statistics suggest a clear link between housing and re-offending. It has even been suggested that ex-prisoners have intentionally re-offended to avoid homelessness.

 ‘Inadequate’ housing support

The JRF report found that the general level of housing support received by prisoners was ‘inadequate’.

Worryingly, 15 years after this report, Barnardo’s highlighted the need for improved support for young ex-offenders as it found children as young as 13 were being released from custody without a safe place to live. Barnardo’s argued that supported accommodation on release from custody could produce savings of more than £67,000 per individual over a three-year period.

A review of probation services carried out in 2014 also criticised the system, finding that:

“contact between offenders and offender supervisors or managers varied considerably and even where there was good contact, this had little impact on accommodation and ETE [employment, training and education] outcomes at the point of release, although contacts were more effective post-release. Sentence planning and oversight were weak and resettlement work in prisons was insufficiently informed.”

The Public Accounts Committee has more recently noted that “the offender housing problem is deteriorating”, despite probation reforms. And Crisis has also raised concern about the lack of financial or practical support to find accommodation for those leaving prison.

Current action and the Homelessness Reduction Act

Most prisons have a housing and resettlement service called ‘through the gate’, introduced by the government in 2015. However, early reports on these services have not been hopeful, described as “having a negligible impact on reducing prisoner re-offending rates, two years after its introduction.”

Local authorities also have a statutory duty to assist homeless and vulnerable ex-offenders in some circumstances, and if not entitled to social housing, they must provide advice to ex-offenders at risk of homelessness. This duty has been strengthened by the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 in England, which has just come into force. The Act puts an obligation on prison or probation services to notify a local authority if they believe a person to be at risk of homelessness.

Crisis has described the Act as “the most significant change to the homelessness legislation in 40 years”.

In Scotland, the Scottish Prison Service and partners launched the Sustainable Housing on Release for Everyone (SHORE) standards in December 2017. These standards represent a good example of preventative measures, which aim ‘to ensure that the housing needs of individuals in prison are handled at an early stage, in a consistent way across Scotland, regardless of where they come from, their housing status and how long they have been in prison or young offenders’ institution’.

Will it make a difference?

It is too early to tell whether these actions will have the desired impact but here’s hoping they will be more effective than previous reforms. It has been suggested that such provisions will go some way to help create the culture change needed but that it is not enough.

The evidence points to the need for greater collaboration and partnership working across all sectors.

With the shortage in housing, austerity, and increasing numbers of homeless people among the whole population, it will certainly be no mean feat.


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Child abuse by children: why don’t we talk about it?

As a society we don’t like to discuss it, but child-on-child sexual harm is more commonplace than we would like to admit. Whether it is young adolescent or prepubescent abuse; sibling abuse; or sexting and revenge porn among underage teenagers, it remains a taboo subject, and one which the care, education and criminal justice systems can be reluctant to tackle head on.

The scale of the issue

While the majority of sexual abuse is committed by adults, a study in 2003 reported that 20% of convictions for sexual offences in the UK relate to children who are themselves under the age of 18.

There are also high profile cases which have been extensively covered in the media and are often placed within a narrative on ‘poor parenting’, deviance and deprivation. These include the case of a 10- and an 11-year old boy from Doncaster, who were sentenced in 2009 for the beating, torture and sexual abuse of two other boys; and the murder in Liverpool of James Bulger in 1993 by two ten year-olds.

Acknowledging behaviour as harmful

Research by the National Clinical Assessment and Treatment Service (NCats) published in 2010 found that authorities, teachers, social workers and doctors often miss opportunities, or are unsure whether to intervene when they become aware of sexual behaviour.

In many instances the research found that adults were reluctant to acknowledge behaviour as “sexually harmful”, and instead label it as “playful” or “exploratory”. Recognising the difference between these and acting upon it appropriately is vital if children are to be prevented from displaying further harmful sexual behaviour (HSB) in the future.

One doctor commented in a BBC interview that it was not uncommon for a serious teenage sex offender to be referred to a doctor with a complete and detailed history of instances of harmful sexual behaviour, but with no action having been taken in the early years. Research from the NSPCC has also been critical of the provision of support services, both for victims but also for child perpetrators of child sexual abuse, with one academic describing the availability of support services as being a “postcode lottery”. They stress the need for a national strategy to deal with young sex offenders.

In early 2016, the Report of the parliamentary inquiry into support and sanctions for children who display harmful sexual behaviour was published by Barnardo’s. The inquiry found a lack of joined-up working, with different agencies too often dealing with harmful sexual behaviour in isolation from others.

To address this, the NSPCC have produced a framework for assessing harmful sexual behaviour which is designed to provide direction for frontline workers, encourage inter-agency working and help services provide support to families of children who display harmful sexual behaviour.

New challenges in the digital age

Recently professionals are also having to deal with new challenges in relation to the impact of the “digital age”, with online grooming, sexting and revenge porn, and the accessing of online pornography becoming increasingly common among young adolescents and pre-pubescent children.

A survey by one teachers’ union found that children as young as seven were found to be “sexting” at school, while a quarter of teachers who responded to the NASUWT survey said they were aware of 11-year-olds sexting.

In 2012, a qualitative study of children, young people and ‘sexting’ was produced by the NSPCC. It confirmed that even young children are affected, with access to technology and smartphones, making it much easier for them to view, share or produce their own sexual content. It found that in many instances, peers, not older children or adults were the biggest “threat”, particularly to girls.

And a recent campaign by the NSPCC highlighted that one in seven young people have taken a naked or semi-naked picture of themselves, and over half went on to share this picture with someone else.

More action needed

It has been widely acknowledged that the government needs to act to create a specific set of guidelines around child sexual behaviour, and in particular child-on-child abuse. The rise of mobile technology has presented authorities with a new problem and makes it easier than ever for young people to become exposed to, or become victim to, harmful and sexual abuse.

Better guidance and training for different professions is needed on how to recognise and deal with harmful sexual behaviour in children. Similarly, the support networks for victims and perpetrators must be strengthened in order to allow children to feel able to speak up and report instances of abuse, and also to break potential cycles of abuse and prevent children from continuing to project harmful sexual behaviours into adulthood.


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Being a young carer shouldn’t be a struggle

Five teens hang out in a park and share a bible

By Stacey Dingwall

Last month the winner of the Apps for Good “People’s Choice Award” was revealed as a group of school pupils from Denbigh High School in Luton, with their idea for a mobile phone app to support isolated young carers. One of the team members revealed that “the problem that we are trying to solve is how can you help young carers get back into society, meet others like themselves and access the essential support services that they need – all in one place?

The question of how to support young carers also gained publicity earlier this year with the launch of a national campaign calling for policy changes to help young adult carers to participate in learning and work. NIACE, along with other members of the National Policy Forum for Young Adult Carers, is calling for three specific policy changes: young adult carers to be formally identified as a ‘vulnerable group’ giving them full entitlement to the 16-19 Bursary; young adult carers to be exempt from the 21 hour rule in the benefit system; and young adult carers to be able to access flexible hours Traineeships and Apprenticeships.

The extent of young carers in the UK

New measures introduced in April 2015 through the Care Act and the Children and Families Act place a responsibility on local authorities in England to take reasonable steps to identify young people who are caring for an ill or disabled family member, assess their needs and explicitly define what those needs are.

Our latest briefing for our members, many of whom work in children’s services or the voluntary sector, looks at the impact that caring can have on young people’s lives and how support can be improved.

2013 figures from the Office for National Statistics, based on the 2011 Census, placed the number of young carers (aged under 19) in England and Wales at 244,000. Of these, 23,000 young carers were aged under nine, and 10,000 were aged under seven. There were also 149,000 aged between 15 and 19, around twice the number aged between 10 and 14. Estimates from the Carers Trust suggest there are 36,821 carers in Scotland aged under 25, and around 30,000 child carers in Northern Ireland.

Hidden carers

In order to be identified in official statistics however, young carers need to be known to health, education and social care services. As acknowledged by the UK government’s 2010 Carers’ Strategy, many young carers actually remain hidden from services.

This is for two reasons: services need to do more to identify them; and some families actively conceal their need for a young person to undertake caring responsibilities, out of fear they will be taken into care. Another issue is that the young person or their family may not even recognise that they are classed as a young carer.

The practical, mental and emotional impacts of caring

With regards to the practical impact of caring, The Children’s Society has highlighted research by the Audit Commission which found that young carers between the ages of 16 and 18 had a much greater chance of being not in education, employment or training (NEET). In terms of the mental health of young carers, research by the Carers Trust found that 38% of those who participated indicated that they had a mental health problem. Additionally, the Longitudinal Survey of Young People in England (LSYPE) notes that young carers are 1.5 times more likely to have special educational needs, a disability or long-term illness themselves.

How to improve support for young carers?

The Carers Trust has made a series of recommendations for schools, GPs, health and social care services, and young carer and young adult carer support services, on actions they should take to improve the information and support available to young carers. These include that schools should establish a clear framework of support for young adult carers, which is embedded into the school’s policies and communicated to parents.

Our briefing also highlights examples of organisations who provide support and respite services for young carers, such as the Children’s Society’s Young Carers in Focus (YCiF) project. Part of the Include programme, this service includes the provision of a dedicated social networking site for young carers and those working with them, as well as specialist weekends, which offer young carers the chance to build skills and knowledge across a wide range of topics, including different potential future professions.


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