The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) for HMP Bronzefield annual report recently revealed that “Up to 50% of women [are] leaving prison homeless, despite being in a vulnerable state.” HMP Bronzefield is London’s only female prison and, like most prisons, state that they pride themselves on helping all their inmates assimilate back into society.
However, this task becomes extremely difficult when faced with issues such as lack of housing. The report states: “There is a desperate shortage of hostel and social housing. So many of these women could end up on the streets living rough and open to abuse.”
Throughout the report, many of the women acknowledge that there are organisations such as Vison Housing and Nacro, which help ex-offenders find suitable housing. However, the report also stated that while many of the hostels although have “good intentions”, they do often accommodate drug users, which can be challenging for recovering substance abusers.
An ex-housing officer, who would like to remain anonymous, believes that the ongoing housing crisis has affected ex-female inmates the worse:
“Ex-female offenders are not seen as a priority and this is a huge problem. Because they are not seen as important cases to deal with, many women come out of jail and end up homeless. Many of these women are vulnerable and often being homeless sends them into a downward spiral of re-offending….. It is extremely disheartening to find out that so many female ex-offenders we talk to end up re-offending, because their state of homelessness means that hey find it hard to get a full-time employment. If we want to stop these women from re-offending then we firstly need to make sure that they are viewed as a priority and housed almost immediately”.
There is no doubt that being made homeless cannot only dishearten ex-offenders, but it can also expose them to the life of crime that they are trying to stir away from. It’s also important to take into consideration that many women are forced to go back to living in areas where they are tempted to delve back into their old habits. This is especially a problem for these dealing with drug abuse and prostitution.
It’s hard enough for female ex-offenders to assimilate back into the working world in a society where they remain marginalised. But I can only imagine how much harder this process is when you have nowhere to call home. The organisation Women In Prison make it their mission to continue to fight for female ex-offenders, stating in their manifesto that these women are in ‘priority need’ of housing after leaving prison.
In order to stop the re-offending figures from increasing, the government need to step in and ensure that those who leave prison vulnerable have access to suitable accommodation. As of right now it seems that these women are being put into situations that tempt them into reverting back into criminality.