UK: over 1,000 prison leavers left homeless amid pandemic, MoJ figures show

Number released to sleep rough in England and Wales forces government to ramp up funding

More than 1,000 prisoners were released into homelessness at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in England and Wales, figures show, prompting the government to increase funding for accommodation for prison leavers.

Figures released to the Labour MP Lyn Brown show 840 men, 89 women and 85 young adults aged 18 to 24 were released into rough sleeping or other forms of homelessness between 23 March, when the lockdown was imposed, and 30 April.

A further 1,209 men, women and young adults were released with unknown circumstances for accommodation in the same period.

Brown, the shadow minister for prisons and probation, said: “Homelessness for prison leavers prevents rehabilitation, drives re-offending, and is an obvious public health danger during the pandemic.

“If prison leavers don’t have a decent place to stay, they don’t get a second chance and the public aren’t protected. The Government must guarantee all prison leavers are provided with the right support to break the cycle of re-offence, not just during this crisis, but permanently.”

In late March, the government asked local authorities in England to house all rough sleepers and those in hostels and night shelters but by mid-April there were still multiple warnings over the risk to rough sleepers from Covid-19.

In response to the parliamentary question, the justice minister Lucy Frazer revealed that “due to public health concerns and public protection considerations, there is a need to provide accommodation for a larger cohort of prison leavers”, and funding had been increased.

The Ministry of Justice has secured appropriate funding for a time-limited period to support the provision of accommodation for all individuals released from prison at risk of homelessness,“ Frazer said.

She added: “We are working closely across government to ensure that all individuals released at risk of homelessness receive necessary support to help them secure somewhere to live.”

The additional funding will run until 26 June, at which point it will be reviewed. The MoJ has been approached for comment.

Between 23 March and 30 April, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus rose from about 11,000 to approximately 126,000.

The figures released to Brown show that about 15% of all women and 14% of all men released from prison during the period were released into rough sleeping or other forms of homelessness, compared with 6% of young adults.

Campbell Robb, the chief executive of Nacro, a charity that provides assistance to prison leavers in finding accommodation, help with finances and finding training or employment to resettle into the community, said: “For far too long the scandal of people leaving prison homeless with little chance to turn their lives around has been overlooked.

“We see through our work on the ground that the need for action during the coronavirus pandemic has been even greater.

“The additional funding from the Ministry of Justice is a welcome step. But with so many prison leavers being at risk of homelessness we mustn’t let this focus suddenly end after June. We need to see a long-term commitment to everyone leaving prison having somewhere to stay. It’s time we gave people the best chance at a second chance.”

Peter Dawson, director at the Prison Reform Trust, said: “Every single person released from prison is subject to probation supervision. So it is extraordinary that for nearly a third of adult men and women discharged during the pandemic, no-one has known where they are going to be living.

“Almost all have left with just £46 from the government to manage on. How those people are supposed to “stay at home to protect the NHS” defies understanding. In the same period, the government has spent over £4m building temporary cells inside the prison walls. It’s surely time to reassess priorities.”

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “With the spread of coronavirus confirmed in almost every prison in the country, it is vital that as many people as possible are enabled to return to the community safely.

“Leaving people to fend for themselves on the streets during a pandemic puts them, and us, at risk. The government must ensure that people leaving prison have somewhere to live and the support they need to move away from crime and build a brighter future.”