Women released from a female-only prison in London face abuse and homelessness, according to a new report. The watchdog for Bronzefield Prison, near Staines, says there is a desperate shortage of housing for freed offenders, and up to 60 per cent of women are at risk of sleeping rough after their release – despite often being vulnerable due to mental health issues or addiction.
‘Desperate Shortage of Housing’
Last week, the Independent Monitoring Board for Bronzefield Prison released a damning report, saying many offenders released from the Sodexo-run jail in Surrey ended up “living rough”, “open to abuse” – and often returned to prison in a worse state than when they left. Many released women had committed further crimes, returned to abusive relationships or been housed in unsuitable accommodation.
The report acknowledged that many of Bronzefield’s staff went “above and beyond” what was expected from them in an effort to support women at the prison, but said those efforts were often undermined by the lack of appropriate housing available to women.
“There’s a desperate shortage of hostel and social housing,” says the report.
“So many of these women could end up on the streets living rough and open to abuse.”
The report revealed a steep rise in the number of women recalled to prison, often for minor breaches of their release terms. When women did have a home to go to after their release, its suitability was often unchecked, leading to many women returning to abusive relationships because they had nowhere else to go. The report suggests that briefly returning women to prison can cause them to lose accommodation and employment, creating a disproportionate cost, both to women and the prison, which often had insufficient time to provide offenders with constructive support before they were released again.
‘Stop People Spending First Night of Freedom on the Street’
Conservative MP Will Quince, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Homelessness, said people needed more support to ensure that they did not spend their first night after being released from prison on the street. He has called on the government to reform the discharge grant, which released inmates can apply for to cover the costs of their first day of freedom.
The discharge grant is just £46 – an amount set in 1995 and not revised since.
“Very few people leave prison with any savings and the safety net provided by the discharge grant has been eroded by 22 years of inflation,” he said in a piece for the Huffington Post. “There are very few places in the country where £46 will be able to cover a night of unplanned accommodation – certainly not in any cities – and so many prison leavers are unfortunately being left in a situation where they spend their first night of freedom sleeping rough on the streets.
“The inability to spend their discharge grant on accommodation also leads to the possibility of them spending the money on substances to help cope with a night out in the open.”