Women are more likely to become homeless after being released from prison than men, analysis shows

Lena Weib

Women are more likely to become homeless after being released from prison than men, i analysis of Ministry of Justice data shows.

Once women have been released into homelessness, they are often more vulnerable than men due to factors such as domestic abuse or sexual exploitation, campaigners have said.

It comes as an independent report into HMP Bronzefield – the largest women’s prison in the UK – last week found that 65 per cent of women were being released without safe and sustainable accommodation to go to.

According to Ministry of Justice statistics, 12.8 per cent of women who were released from prison ended up either homeless or rough sleeping in the year 2020/21, compared with just 11.8 per cent of men.

But an independent report from women’s institution HMP Foston Hall found that 20 per cent of women were released without a home to go to.

Dr Jenny Earle, from the Safe Homes for Women Leaving Prison initiative, said that vulnerable women who are released from prison into homelessness are “set up for failure”.

“Given strong links between being released into homeless and reoffending, it’s madness that the Government hasn’t done more to improve housing support on release,” she told i, adding that “without a home, you don’t stand a chance”.

Without a permanent home address, people will be unable to sign up for health services, including a GP, and will struggle to access drug and alcohol support as a result. It also makes it far harder for those newly-released from prison to gain employment.

In its report published on 11 May, HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) put the problem down to staffing cuts in domestic abuse support and the resettlement team which created weaknesses in release planning.

One woman spent two nights in a prison gatehouse when she was released as she had nowhere else to go, the report found.

Charlie Taylor, Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that failing to ensure women have suitable accommodation plays a key role in the cycle of reoffending.

He said: “Without stable, safe accommodation many women are liable to have mental health relapses, return to substance misuse and become involved in crime on release, creating more victims and, at great cost to the taxpayer, repeating the cycle and undoing the good work of the prison.”

Dr Earle said the Government needs to use a “slightly different approach” for resettling women in society than they do for men because women are subject to gendered vulnerabilities.

“It involves understanding that women may be vulnerable to domestic abuse, sexual exploitation and they need support to be reunited with their children,” she said.

She added the issue has been a “running sore for years” and includes the “hidden homeless” such as those who sofa surf or return to abusive households.

“The Government is presiding over systemic failure which continues to see vulnerable women released from custody with nothing but a small discharge grant and a plastic bag; this ruinous system sets them up for failure and leaves them vulnerable to harm and to reoffending,” said Dr Earle, who led the Prison Reform Trust programme on women’s imprisonment for nearly a decade.

She argues that while women are more likely to be homeless after release from prison, they do not get a fair share of Government resources to tackle the issue.

Transitional accommodation services, such as hostels, are oriented towards men rather than women. Although women-only hostels do exist, there are not enough, she said.

Women released into mixed-sex hostels are more likely to re-offend and they can be at the mercy of predatory men, according to a 2016 briefing by Prison Reform Trust called Home Truths.

(Credit: Tom Saunders)

i analysis of the number of men and women released from prison into homelessness from April 2019 to March 2021 shows that the issue is more likely to impact women.

The most recent MOJ data shows that 12.8 per cent – or 600 – of the 4,685 women who were released from prison in the year 2020/21 ended up homeless or rough sleeping.

In comparison, 11.8 per cent of the 58,611 men who were released from prison during the same year ended up homeless – totalling 6,916 men.

However, the proportion of women who were homeless or rough sleeping on release from custody has fallen from 18.3 per cent in 2019/20 to 12.8 per cent in 2020/21.

(Credit: Tom Saunders)

The MOJ statistics analysed by i are slightly lower than an independent report from women’s institution HMP Foston Hall – which found that 20 per cent of women were released without a home to go to.

This could be partly because it is “unknown” where a fairly considerable proportion of those leaving prison end up, according to MOJ statistics.

“As far as we’re concerned, [MOJ data] grossly underestimates the rate of release to homelessness,” said Dr Earle.

She regards the independent reports as “more reliable” as they represent a forensic inspection.

Dr Earle said that an effective policy to stop women from being released into homelessness requires leadership and joined-up working between services including housing providers, the prison and the probation service.

‘I was released into homelessness three times’

Rose, from London, was released from prison into homelessness three out of the seven times she has been incarcerated.

“I think it’s ridiculous because those three times I was really young,” she said. “I was a vulnerable priority to the council.”

Upon release, she has had to sofa surf, and even spend some nights on the street.

She has suffered past trauma as has mental health issues including depression and PTSD but said she received very little support while in prison.

Rose, who is now in her 30s, often ended up in hostels which she found tricky because they are often full of drug users and alcoholics.

“I wouldn’t really advise it for a woman who’s just come out of prison,” she said.

Rose, who is now in her 30s, did not like being released into mixed-sex hostels (Photo: Rose)

The first time Rose was imprisoned was in 2012 for shoplifting when she was just 19-years-old – setting her off on a cycle of reoffending.

She is a trans woman and had just started taking hormones at that time. She was sent to a male prison, where she was bullied for being different.

It was only the most recent time – in 2020 – when Rose was allowed to go to a female prison. “I blended in. It was more calming for me, I felt part of a society,” she said.

When she was released in 2020, she began to work with Project Kali, a female-focused service for women who experience homelessness and have a history of offending.

Since working with Project Kali, Rose has not spent a night on the streets and now even has her own flat.

Rose said the service – provided by Single Homeless Project – ensures that she has everything she needs, from housing and budgeting advice to education and self-esteem.

“They make sure that you got what you need,” she said, adding: “I can’t fault it. I’m wrapped around in support all over.”

Project Kali, Single Homeless Project’s service for women, is entirely privately funded. The charity is calling on the Government to fund more services like this to help end homelessness for women leaving prison.

The Government’s Female Offender Strategy published in 2018 recognises that women in the criminal justice system often have complex needs resulting from past trauma, abusive relationships, poverty, mental health problems, and substance abuse.

The strategy outlined a locally-led, partnership-focused and evidence-based framework for how to reduce the number of women entering the criminal justice system.

However, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report on improving outcomes for women in the criminal justice system, published in April 2022, found that progress has been “disappointing” and implementing the strategy has been a “low priority”.

Commenting on the PAC report, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said: “This is a forensic dismantling of the government’s wholly inadequate approach to implementing its strategy to reduce offending by women.”

He called for the Government to start acting on the promises made in the strategy, adding: “Ministers should be thoroughly embarrassed that it has taken such an intervention to hold them to account for the promises they’ve made.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We are preventing homelessness by providing temporary accommodation to prison leavers without a home to go to as part of our £550 million plans to cut crime and we’ve already seen the rate of prisoners homeless on release fall by 28 per cent.

“The number of women going to prison in the first place has also fallen by a third since 2018 as part of our efforts to divert vulnerable women into community services, drug rehabilitation and women’s centres.”

Next Post

Study examines how environment and genetics together shape the health of children with asthma - School of Medicine News

The ALOFT study’s investigators include Francesca Luca, Ph.D.; Samuele Zilioli, Ph.D.; and Roger Pique-Regi, Ph.D. The National Institutes of Health has awarded a trio of researchers from Wayne State University’s School of Medicine and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences a five-year, $2.2 million grant to expand a project launched […]