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When everyone has a home

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Housing Rights responds to draft Prisons 2020 Strategy

Housing Rights has responded to the Prisons’ Service “Prisons 2020” discussion document, which aims to “provide an efficient, effective, modern and affordable service which is focused on the development of staff and capable of rehabilitating people in custody.”

Research has consistently shown a clear and strong link between homelessness and re-offending. In Northern Ireland, 42.5% of those leaving custody will re-offend within one year. Housing Rights delivers a number of projects working specifically with prisoners, with the overall aim of preventing homelessness, reducing reoffending and supporting people to independent living. Housing Rights prison projects include:

Factors the Prison Service should consider

In developing and delivering Prisons 2020, the Prisons Service should consider the following contextual factors:

Universal Credit

Universal Credit will pose significant external challenges to the resettlement and rehabilitation of those on release from prison, with key issues including the initial 6-week wait for payment; requirements for verification of identity; and increased conditionalities for receiving benefit. Housing Rights would encourage the Prisons Service to continue its constructive and co-operative work with DfC and others as the UC roll-out continues.

Homelessness Strategy 2017-2022

The Homelessness Strategy 2017-2022 follows the structure of the draft Programme for Government and is outcomes-focussed, including an aim of “ensuring a cross-departmental and interagency approach to ending homelessness.” Housing Rights would encourage the Prisons Service to work with NIHE and other relevant bodies addressing homelessness, particularly given the clear and strong links between homelessness and re-offending.

Housing First model

The Housing First model, which emphasises secure housing as an anchor for other support services, is becoming increasingly prevalent internationally and in Northern Ireland, with our Beyond the Gate project one example. The Prisons Service should consider expansion of this model for those on release who have particularly complex needs.

Review of social housing allocations

The ongoing review of social housing allocations, and any actual changes arising from this review, should be taken into account by the Prisons Service over the course of Prisons 2020.

Effective resettlement leads to rehabilitation

There are several examples of good practice within the Prisons Service, and in partnerships involving the Prisons Service, which promote resettlement and rehabilitation:

  • The presence of Prisoner Development Units across the 3 prisons, involving specialist partners including Housing Rights and with a focus on rehabilitation, have delivered positive outcomes for many prisoners.
  • The development of the peer adviser role within prisons is highly valuable, both to prisoners approaching release who can access vital information and advice, and to the peer advisers themselves, who gain skills and knowledge which can assist in their own rehabilitation on release.

There are areas, however, where the Prisons Service could improve further on resettlement and rehabilitation of prisoners on release:

  • There is scope for further instances of flexible and good practice to be developed across the 3 prisons – for instance, in Hydebank Wood College where advisers have been permitted to take clients to view potential homes in advance of release.
  • Housing Rights advisers have had clients who have spent significant time on remand, who are then either found innocent or released on a “time served” basis, and who exit custody with little or no engagement with key services. Housing Rights would encourage the Prisons Service to consider how best to ensure that remand prisoners, held for substantial amounts of time, are better able to access key resettlement and rehabilitation services.
  • The Prisons Service should continue commissioning and funding external partners on an outcomes basis. Housing Rights currently monitors the impact of all of our work, including prisons projects.

Co-operative working from custody to community

Housing Rights feels it important to emphasise that stakeholders across the public and voluntary sectors have roles to play, alongside the Prisons Service, in supporting people’s transition from custody to community. Housing Rights would encourage consideration of further development of co-operative working arrangements:

  • The Housing Advice in Prisons protocol, an award-winning partnership of 7 public and voluntary sector bodies, is an excellent example of partnership towards agreed outcomes, and similar models of co-design could be relevant in other relevant areas.
  • The ongoing work between the Prisons Service, Housing Rights and the NIHE Causeway “Housing Solutions” team is positive, and has significant potential to deliver positive outcomes if effectively undertaken.
  • There is scope for Prisons Service to develop information-sharing protocols with relevant/”trusted” partners – for example, Universal Credit, HSC Trusts or Social Services.

Role of voluntary & community sector

Housing Rights feels that provision of specialist housing advice can deliver outcomes contributing to resettlement of individuals, which enables consequent rehabilitation. We have also recently undertaken specific work to establish the intended outcomes of our prisons projects, and are reviewing data collection procedures to ensure progress towards these outcomes are measured. By using an outcomes model to establish need, and commission, monitor and evaluate services, the Prisons Service can ensure that any resources can be clearly tracked to identifiable impacts and outcomes for clients.

Read our full response.

 

Author

Stephen Orme