Reoffending is being fuelled by ex-prisoner homelessness

Britain is rapidly becoming much more peaceful. In case you haven’t already noticed, it is now official. This is great news; but for some these numbers will be small comfort. As usual, headline figures mask the experiences at the individual and neighbourhood level.

Jack Lofthouse is a researcher at IPPR

Britain is rapidly becoming much more peaceful. In case you haven’t already noticed, it is now official. Yesterday’s figures from the Crime Survey for England and Wales show that the national crime rate has once again fallen, with a 19 per cent reduction in total reported incidents since 2006/7.

This was echoed by 2013 UK Peace Index (UKPI), published on Tuesday, which shows an overall decline in the number of violent crimes, homicides and public disorder offences across the UK.

This is great news; but for some these numbers will be small comfort. As usual, headline figures mask the experiences at the individual and neighbourhood level. Many people still find themselves a victim of crime and many others find themselves trapped in a cycle of offending and reoffending, with inadequate support to help them make a positive change.

Prison doesn’t work

At 148 people per 100,000, England and Wales have the largest per capita prison population in Western Europe, including a total of almost 8,000 serving sentences of 12 months or less. This level of incarceration has repeatedly been shown to be a costly and ineffective way of dealing with these people. But politicians have found themselves caught in the trap of ramping up the rhetoric and demanding ever tougher sentences for minor crimes.

This is a familiar story but some interesting developments suggest things could change. First is the emergence of good fiscal arguments for having fewer people cycling through prison. As Mary Riddell points out, a key challenge for the Labour party is to show that saving money can produce social dividends.

In terms of crime, at least, this is an objective that transcends traditional party lines, as evidenced by a recent IPPR paper co-authored by US conservative Pat Nolan and Sadiq Khan on the need, both economic and social, to shift to a more preventative approach to dealing with offenders.

Second, there is a need to find better ways of supporting people leaving prison. As part of its Condition of Britain project, IPPR has been talking to people who been in prison more than once, often caught up in a cycle of reoffending.

We’ve heard stories of people walking out of prison with little more than their clothes and a £46 discharge grant. One person told us that, on leaving prison, she had nowhere to sleep and had to go around hostels trying to find a bed. Another spoke of having to rely on friends and family to put them up on their sofas. Many had experienced problems finding employment and struggled to get housing given that they were considered low priority by the authorities.

A place to live

Housing ex-offenders is a key issue. Many people will understandably think it is wrong that someone straight out of prison can immediately get a council house when working families are languishing on waiting lists. But there is a practical problem of what do for these people, who need somewhere secure to live – otherwise they may end up back in prison.

One option is to house them separately in dedicated supported housing, but costs are high and it is not always clear how to identify which people need extra help.

We also need to listen to their concerns about the design of statutory services. In our conversations, there was a palpable frustration at different services working in isolation, which often leave people with nowhere to turn to.

In this case, there is much to be learned from the voluntary sector. Charities such as St Mungo’s and Revolving Doors involve their clients in the design of their service at all levels, and use client forums to ascertain how satisfied people are with services they receive.

Above all, they work at a level which treats people as individuals with particular personalities, and complex and often overlapping needs.

Leave a Reply