Providing ex-offenders with a home can bring major economic and social benefits

Written by
Alan Mairs
Tom Halpin addresses audience at launch of "Preventing Homelessness and Reducing Reoffending" report (photo: Laura Suarez)

Link between homelessness and re-offending shows need for investment in housing advice and support for prison-leavers

A new report on the link between homelessness and re-offending has called for housing to be made a priority in the forthcoming National Strategy for Community Justice in Scotland.

Shelter Scotland’s ‘Preventing Homelessness and Reducing Re-Offending’ report was the centrepiece of an event at the Scottish Parliament on 9 September. It makes 14 recommendations, including a call for a proportion of the funding received by community justice partners to be earmarked for improving the housing advice and support available to prisoners.

Previous research by the charity showed that providing a safe and secure home to ex-offenders upon release is crucial in preventing re-offending.

  • Each case of re-offending costs around £34,000 per prisoner per year.
  • Last year 2,108 of statutory homeless applications in Scotland came from people leaving prison.
  • Each case of homelessness in Scotland can cost anything from £5,000 to £25,000.

The report highlights that last year 6% (2,108) of statutory homeless applications in Scotland came from people leaving prison, a significant over-representation when compared to other groups. The charity says this official figure is unlikely to represent the full scale of the problem and homelessness could be much higher among the nearly 20,000 people who leave prison each year.

The event at the Scottish Parliament was organised with the support of Mary Fee MSP and Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs who spoke at the event.

According to the report:

  • 30% of those released from prison in Scotland have nowhere to live on their liberation. In addition, two thirds of those who were homeless after their release from prison go on to reoffend.
  • Research has shown a reduction in re-offending of as much as 20% for those who had stable accommodation on their release compared to those who do not.
  • The current prison population in Scotland stands at 7,500, but the annual liberation rate is nearly 20,000, due to the fact that a large proportion of prisoners are in custody for short periods of time.
  • Of those that are liberated, one third have served less than 12 months and 44% are released from remand.
  • Of the 19,792 prisoners liberated in 2011-12, 8,787 had been on remand and 6,548 were sentenced to less than a year. Due to the short period of these sentences giving less time to engage with support agencies, evidence has shown that these groups are even more prone to homelessness.

Graeme Brown, 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.

“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.

“Having a secure home can play a vital role in breaking the cycle of reoffending, bringing both social and economic benefits.”

Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs said:

“I welcome this report from Shelter Scotland which looks at the potential links between homelessness and reoffending. It highlights many important points and underlines a number of reasons why short-term prison sentences are ineffective. That is why we, in the Scottish Government, believe it is important to continue to invest in community alternatives to custody, as we do, to enable individuals to pay back to their communities whilst maintaining established relationships and connections, like stable housing, which can help to reduce reoffending.

“The Scottish Government recognises that access to stable accommodation is the foundation to successful reintegration and we know a permanent address is crucial to gaining employment, access to health care, treatment for addiction and rebuilding family ties. That is why we are committed to working with partners and stakeholders, including Shelter Scotland, to continue to do all we can to support those leaving prison to become active and responsible contributors to their communities.

“We have already made good progress in this area. The reconviction rate in Scotland is now at its lowest level for 16 years and recorded crime is at a 41 year low. However, we are clear that there can be no let-up in our co-ordinated and concerted efforts to further reduce reoffending, promote rehabilitation and make our communities safer and that is why discussion on the importance of housing, as a factor in preventing reoffending, is so vital.”

As part of the report investigation, researchers gathered and analysed data from lived experiences of offenders serving sentences, ex-offenders with a history of homelessness and support networks to better understand the link between homelessness and reoffending.

Shelter Scotland has been providing services in prisons for over 15 years and currently delivers a service working with prisoners to prevent homelessness though the Supporting Prisoners; Advice Network (SPAN) Scotland project, in partnership with Sacro and Inverness Citizens Advice Bureau.

SPAN has worked with over 1,600 people across four prisons since its launch in 2013. In the last year the service supported 467 people – 35% of these individuals were homeless upon entering prison. 64% of those using the service had a tenancy upon entering prison and 84% (250) of these were supported to keep their tenancy upon release.

Tom Halpin, chief executive of Sacro, said:

“Having stable accommodation on release from prison makes a huge difference to a person’s prospects, including their ability to stop reoffending. What we know from our work with people leaving prison is that they face complex and multiple needs, often compounded by homelessness.

“The strength of SPAN in providing housing advice with advocacy support, followed up with resettlement through-care into stable and independent living, means that the stability provided by a sustained tenancy works in reducing re-offending”.

The report: Preventing Homelessness and Reducing Re-Offending – is available for download