We welcome the Ministry of Justice’s announcement that it will provide additional funding to support prison leavers into temporary accommodation and to prevent rough sleeping.
For people in the criminal justice system, accessing safe, stable and appropriate accommodation is challenging, and we know too many people continue to be released from prison with nowhere to go. This issue has become more challenging in recent years, and despite the innovative and welcome ‘Everyone In’ initiative launched at beginning of the pandemic, our latest research on the impact of Covid-19 on the voluntary sector indicates that homelessness for people in contact with the criminal justice system has become even more acute.
In 2018, a specialist interest group of the Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group (RR3) made a series of recommendations about how to address these challenges, including the need for a cross-departmental accommodation strategy owned and led by the Ministry of Justice. This recent announcement, alongside Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) Accommodation Framework and funding scheme to support people at risk of homelessness during the pandemic mark important steps towards meeting these recommendations.
What is new?
On 29th January, the government announced a £70m investment into accommodation and wider support for prison leavers. This figure represents both new and existing funding allocations from the Ministry of Justice and HMPPS. We outline below the key elements of this announcement alongside the funding that has been committed to it.
Supporting people leaving prison into temporary accommodation
Approximately £20 million will be invested in supporting people on release into basic hostels for up to 12 weeks. Whilst staying in this temporary accommodation, people will receive support to move on to more settled housing.
This will be launched in the following five probation regions and is expected to support around 3,000 people in its first year:
- The East of England
- Yorkshire and the Humber
- Greater Manchester
- Kent, Surrey and Sussex
- The North West.
It is imperative the voluntary sector is engaged in the design and delivery of this service and we are pleased to be working with HMPPS to determine the best way to facilitate this.
To support those leaving prison who are assessed as higher risk, at least £23 million of the funding will go towards building 200 new spaces in approved premises as well as important repairs and maintenance and providing further training for staff. It is estimated that this expansion will enable probation to support an extra 1,700 prison leavers.
Support in custody
The primary focus of the funding package is on accommodation for prison leavers but also includes funding to improve the support people receive whilst in custody to prepare for release.
At least 11 prisons will receive investment for dedicated staff to provide additional support so that prisoners are better prepared to access accommodation, healthcare and employment support services on release. Those prisons will also receive funding to rapidly implement and test new, innovative approaches to improving rehabilitation support, with the successful ones rolled out to the rest of the estate.
What else is the government doing to improve accommodation outcomes for people in the criminal justice system?
Responding to the Covid-19 crisis
A recent investigation by the National Audit Office into housing rough sleepers during the pandemic demonstrated what can be achieved when central government, local authorities and voluntary organisations work together to respond to an extremely urgent priority. By working collaboratively, 33,000 people were helped to find accommodation between March - November 2020 under the ‘Everyone In’ scheme.
However, the investigation also raised some concern that after the initial success, this has become deprioritised by the government, with a continued flow of rough sleepers onto the streets. We have shared some of this concern, particularly with regard to people leaving prison with no accommodation, which is why we highly welcome HMPPS’ decision to extend its scheme supporting people at risk of homelessness during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Under this scheme, prison leavers at risk of homelessness can receive accommodation support for up to 56 nights at a nightly rate of up to £65. We are very pleased that in January a further £3 million of funding has been allocated to extend the scheme to 31st March 2021 due to the ongoing pandemic. In practice this means that individuals can receive this support up to the 26th May 2021.
For more information on this scheme and eligibility, please see our blog here.
A new operational framework for supporting people into settled accommodation
HMPPS has created a new operational framework that sets out its commitments over the next two years for supporting the people under its care into settled accommodation. We welcome this very positive step forward and are pleased, alongside our members, to engage with the extensive consultation programme that informed the framework’s development.
It is particularly positive to see the recognition that HMPPS cannot respond to their accommodation needs alone, so a key principle of this framework is ‘transformation through partnerships’. One of the key commitments for the voluntary sector is HMPPS’ commitment to developing a set of standards for local areas to consider. These standards will set out what good accommodation partnerships look like and help shape local responses. We are working with the team at HMPPS to ensure the views and experiences of the voluntary sector are reflected in this work.
The Accommodation Framework is a public document but has not been published online. If you would like a copy of the framework please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where to next?
We know accommodation challenges for people in contact with the criminal justice system are entrenched and there is a long way to go before everyone leaving prison has somewhere safe to live. But these announcements are an important step in the right direction and we are looking forward to engaging with the Ministry of Justice and HMPPS to ensure the voluntary sector is able to shape these developments as they are implemented.
Latest on Twitter
It is imperative that government prioritises and resources the tackling of race inequality in the criminal justice system. It is crucial that voluntary orgs led by and focussed on racially minoritised people are listened to, taken seriously and consulted in these conversations. https://twitter.com/HMIProbation/status/1451073306791223296