A recent study by the Department of Sociology & Criminology’s Policy and Evaluation Research Unit (PERU) on the link between homelessness amongst ex-offenders and the incidence of re-offending, was highlighted in an article in last Friday’s Guardian newspaper. Here is the full story:
Threat to crisis loans puts critical work to house ex-offenders at risk
Organisations cutting re-offending by finding stable accommodation for former prisoners face a funding shortage
By Liam Kelly, Guardian Professional, Friday 23 November 2012
More than half of ex-offenders reoffend within two years of release at enormous cost to society and the taxpayer. The National Audit Office calculates that this cycle of reoffending costs £11bn a year. For many experts, access to stable accommodation is a key element in breaking this cycle.
Ministry of Justice figures show that offenders who are homeless when entering prison are far more likely than those with accommodation to be reconvicted after their release. Many prisoners expect to qualify for a social tenancy upon release, or presume a probation worker will set up permanent accommodation for them. In reality, a third of prisoners lose their home as a result of imprisonment and one fifth have nowhere to stay after release.
Blanket bans on certain groups, including ex-offenders, being able to apply for social housing were made unlawful in 2002, but local authorities are not obliged to secure permanent accommodation for ‘intentionally homeless’ households, a category into which ex-offenders often fall.
With few council houses available for ex-offenders, the private rented sector is often the only option. Yet a criminal record, or even just dependence on housing benefit, can mean they struggle to secure a home. Even if a suitable property is available, the need to find a deposit and a month’s rent in advance in order to begin a tenancy is often beyond the means of those recently released from prison.
Crisis loans and community care grants are an important lifeline for many ex-offenders. However these payments will soon be cut and rolled into a new fund called local welfare assistance – a non-ringfenced fund covering a far wider remit and managed by local councils with no duty to report how the money has been spent.
“Replacing crisis loans and community care grants with smaller, non-ringfenced budgets, will mean less support is available for ex-offenders to access the stable home that will help get their life back on track,” says Shelter assistant policy officer Peter Jefferys. The charity published a briefing last month that warned: “There is a clear risk, recognised by many councils, that this money will be amalgamated into other budgets and not used for local welfare assistance.”
Despite a consensus about the importance of stable housing in helping to reduce rates of reoffending, the relationship between housing and criminality is complex and finding the exact formula to support former inmates has been difficult. In 2010, the government launched a scheme to reduce reoffending by helping ex-offenders find stable accommodation with the help of charities and community groups, but figures released this year show that reoffending rates are rising. Meanwhile, an £11m flagship Metropolitan police scheme known as the “diamond initiative” that helped short-term ex-offenders resettle after release, recorded no impact on reoffending rates.
But one new study claims to have established a clear link between housing, support and a reduction in re-offending. An evaluation of the work of social enterprise Housing Vision by academics at Manchester Metropolitan University found an 11% reduction in reoffending rates for those housed. Additional demographic breakdowns found a 16% reduction among under-35s, a 21% reduction among the most serious offenders and a 26% reduction among female ex-offenders. The organisation’s self-evaluation has showed that overall reoffending rates are now as low as 15%.
Based in London, Housing Vision is run by ex-offenders and finds private rented tenancies for those released from prison. It was founded by managing director Annys Darkwa. “As a serving prisoner myself, I watched many coming in and out constantly,” she says. “I always asked them ‘why are you back?’ It was always the same thing: we didn’t have accommodation.”
Darkwa believes the strict nine-to-five schedule contributes to rising reoffending rates. “My staff will be out at 8pm viewing properties. They will be doing things, and housing somebody, out of office hours,” she says. “You have to be prepared whether it takes you over 5 o’clock or not.”
She says the majority of prison releases take place on a Friday afternoon as staff at councils and agencies are clocking off. By the time their case is picked up on Monday morning, the ex-offender has often been lost. “You go back to what you know because you may get a sofa for a night,” she explains. “I wanted to break that cycle. Organisations have said for years, what can you do on a Friday? At Vision [released prisoners] can arrive here, we can access a crisis loan, offer a month’s rent in advance, give them the keys and they can move in.”
With more proven links between housing and reoffending rates, some hope that the government will be able to provide financial support to services such as Vision Housing. Darkwa would like to expand her operation, but can’t secure enough funding to do so. Prisons cannot pay, and the current funding only covers a quarter of the costs; the remainder comes from charitable trusts.
The organisation’s success is dependent on the crisis loans that are now under threat. The speed at which the loans are made available is an important part of Vision Housing’s success. Without them, the organisation has a small fund that can be used to meet ex-offenders’ start-up housing costs in advance, but by resorting to this Darkwa and her team are undermining another crucial ingredient in their organisation’s success: the handing over of responsibility.
“Some of the people that we have paid a month’s rent in advance for have just wrecked and vacated the accommodation. With a crisis loan it is their money. Yes, they pay it back in instalments, but when they are ready to vacate the property they get money back. The onus has to be on them. We’re not their mothers.”
At a time when the link between housing and reoffending is becoming clearer, the uncertainty over the future of crisis loans risks undermining the progress that has been made.
“It’s going to be a disaster,” Darkwa warns. “We’re successful because we can house and work with people so quickly. All of this will have a devastating effect on the work that we do.”
“The purpose for crisis loans was never that they should become normal,” says Chris Bath, executive director of Unlock, the National Association of Reformed Offenders. “But with prison and charity budgets being cut, a lack of support and the broader social housing crisis, the criminal justice system has come to rely on the crisis loan.
“That shouldn’t be the case and that continual reliance on it is absolutely not right so I can understand the need to move away from that. But at the moment it is a crutch for a failing system. So while it’s a hugely imperfect solution, the reform is not simply to take the crutch away because the danger is the whole system falling down and it all costing a lot more as a result.”
The article in original context (The Guardian)
PERU (Departmental website)
November 27th, 2012 - 16:29pm