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Preventing homelessness and reducing reoffending: the role of family
Prison leavers and homelessness
A new report* from Shelter Scotland shows that families can help to break the negative cycle of prison-homelessness-prison: families can help prisoners to keep their tenancies, and family support on release can be central to keeping a home and staying out of trouble.
This is significant given that a large-scale survey of prisoners in Scotland has shown that 49% of people lose their tenancy while they are in custody (Carnie et al, 2013) and that rates of reoffending are higher amongst people who do not have stable housing (Social Exclusion Unit, 2002).
Practical help to keep a home
The Shelter Scotland report is based on interviews with 16 service users (those in custody and their families) of the Supporting Prisoners; Advice Network (SPAN) Scotland. It found that family - most often parents - were the people who had stuck by those in custody. Many of the interviewees mentioned the practical assistance they had received from family as important in avoiding homelessness. They appreciated that staff had gone out of their way to communicate and coordinate with family members.
Some family members had paid regular, small amounts of money to reduce rent arrears on behalf of the relative in custody. With the SPAN team negotiating, landlords had accepted these as enough to hold off from taking action to evict.
Some family members had stepped in temporarily to take on the property and rent as 'qualifying occupiers', by sub-letting or forming joint tenancies. This meant that prisoners had a home to return to when they left prison. But even simply checking the house for mail was an important contribution.
Living near family
Interviewees said how important it was for them to live close to family support after they left prison. Finding accommodation close to positive social networks - such as families - can reduce offending behaviour (McHardy, 2010). The formation of strong social bonds with parents, partners and children is a strong reason for change (Healy, 2010).
Shelter Scotland is calling for local authorities to recognise this evidence in housing and allocations policies to make a wider range of housing areas available to prison leavers and to make the private rented sector more accessible through rent deposit guarantee schemes.
If agencies work together to support families to support prisoners, both homelessness and reoffending could be reduced. This would benefit individuals, families and communities across Scotland.
The full report from Shelter Scotland is online at: ' Preventing Homelessness and Reducing Reoffending - Insights from service users of the Supporting Prisoners; Advice Network, Scotland'
* Shelter Scotland (2015) Preventing homelessness and reducing reoffending: insights from service users of the Supporting Prisoners; Advice Network, Scotland'
Carnie, J., Broderick, R. and McCoard, S. (2013) Prisoner Survey 2013, Edinburgh: Scottish Prisons Service
Social Exclusion Unit (2002) Reducing reoffending by ex-prisoners, London: Social Exclusion Unit
McHardy, F. (2010) Out of jail but still not free, Glasgow: EPIC
Healy, D. (2010) The dynamics of desistance: charting pathways through change, Cullompton: Willan