‘Shocking’ number of homeless women sent to prison

Stats show numbers have doubled since 2015, with many going straight back to the street on release.

homeless

Over 3,000 women were recorded as being effectively homeless on arrival in custody at any one of the nine prisons for female offenders in England and Wales last year – with many likely to return to homelessness on release.

Ministry of Justice stats put to Parliament show the number of women recorded as of “no fixed abode” when they entered  prison women has now nearly doubled  since 2015.

The stats were provided to shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon as the answer to a written Parliamentary question.

“This truly shocking increase in the numbers of homeless women ending up in prison is an appalling indictment of our broken justice system.

“Our justice system is punishing people who, in many ways, are themselves victims.

“Prison is all too often the very worst place for people who desperately need help in tackling the underlying problems not just of homelessness but also poverty, mental ill health and substance addiction that led to them being jailed in the first place,” said Burgon.

“Our justice system is punishing people who, in many ways, are themselves victims.

“Prison is all too often the very worst place for people who desperately need help in tackling the underlying problems not just of homelessness but also poverty, mental ill health and substance addiction that led to them being jailed in the first place.

“Many of these women will simply return to homelessness after serving just a few weeks in jail. Instead of wasting stretched justice resources on such prison sentences, we need to end the revolving door between jail and homelessness.

“That means tackling problems at their root by providing people with the support, including the homes they need, to break the cycle of reoffending,” he said.

The stats show 3,262 women recorded as being of no fixed abode on arrival in custody across the nine custodial institutions that hold women in 2018, up 71% from 1,909 in 2015.

Bronzefield prison, run by the private firm Sodexo, saw a sharp increase in the period with inmates homeless on arrival trebling from 338 to 1,021.

The prison is categorised as a local jail, accepting prisoners direct from the courts.

Sodexo also runs Peterborough women’s  prison, which saw the number of homeless inmates more than double in the period from 205 to 557.

According to the Prison Reform Trust, 7,745 women were sent to prison during 2018.

Christina Marriott, the chief executive of the Revolving Doors Agency, a charity that works to reduce reoffending, said: “These shocking figures show a system that punishes already disadvantaged women.

“Prisons cannot and should not pick up the pieces where society has failed to provide an adequate safety net.

“Sending homeless women to prison for a short spell embeds the disadvantage and we know many will be simply released with nowhere safe to live yet again.

“Many of the women being sent to prison will not only be homeless but will also have addictions, mental ill-health and have been victims of domestic violence – this revolving door has got to stop.

“A first step is to restrict the use of shortsighted short prison sentences for both women and men convicted of non-violent offences in favour of smarter alternatives.

“When in the community, services need to work together to secure a safe space for women to live; it is the essential first step for people to build a new life.”

In June last year, the justice secretary, David Gauke, outlined a new female offender strategy with a focus on community services.

It included pilots for five residential women’s centres across England and Wales, increased focus on community provisions and a decision to drop plans to build community prisons for women.

In addition, Lord Farmer, an advocate of prison reform, was commissioned to conduct an in-depth review into family ties.

Justice minister Edward Argar said: “We are improving support for offenders leaving prison with a £22m investment in through-the-gate services which will help to strengthen ties with key partners, including the third sector, local authorities and the police.

“In addition, the female offender strategy sets out our vision and plan to improve outcomes for women in the community and custody.

“We want to see fewer women coming into the criminal justice system, a greater proportion managed successfully in the community, and better conditions for those in custody.”

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