Help for young offenders to prevent homelessness and reoffending

Shelter ScotlandA new programme aimed at preventing homelessness and reoffending by newly released young offenders was launched in Scotland on Wednesday.

Young offenders aged 16-21 in HM Young Offenders Institute Polmont will benefit from the expertise of advisors from housing and homelessness charity Shelter Scotland after a funding award of £105,000 for the Housing Advice Service at Polmont was made by The Robertson Trust.

As part of the service regular drop-in housing advice sessions, group sessions and one-to-one advice will be offered to enable young offenders to engage in discussions around their housing options.

According to Shelter Scotland there is a clear link between the lack of a stable, safe and affordable home and the increase in the likelihood of reoffending.

It is estimated that each case of re-offending prevented by the service is set to reduce the burden on the public purse by more than £33,153 per prisoner per year.

The most recent research shows that:

One-third of prisoners (34 per cent) in Scotland said they did not know where they would be staying upon their release.

The majority of people in prison (97 per cent) expressed a desire to stop offending. When asked which factors would be important in stopping them from reoffending in the future, most stressed the importance of ‘having a place to live’ (60 per cent).

A quarter of prisoners had accessed services while in prison in order to help them prepare for release (26 per cent). Of those who accessed services, 70 per cent had sought advice about housing.

Half of prisoners in Scotland surveyed said that they lost their accommodation when they went to prison (49 per cent).

About 88 per cent of 16 to 20 year olds released from custody are reconvicted within two years, with 45 per cent receiving further custodial sentences.

The average annual cost per prisoner place for 2013–14 in Scotland was £33,153. This is an increase of £1,227 on the previous year.

While the cost of a failed tenancy are hard to pinpoint, the figure is estimated to be around £20,000.

According to Shelter Scotland avoiding homelessness and repeat offending should be a priority, not just for those families and individuals who face the prospect of losing their home, but also to safeguard public expenditure.

Alison Watson, Deputy Director of Shelter Scotland, said: “Addressing the link between the lack of a stable, safe and affordable home and the increase in the likelihood of reoffending is known to be key to breaking the offending cycle.

“When in prison, people often lose their accommodation for reasons such as an inability to pay rent whilst serving their sentence or a family break-up. Many young offenders are out of mainstream education and don’t have a job to go back to upon release making finding and maintaining a home even harder. This can add to an already chaotic lifestyle and lead to re-offending.

“Housing can play a vital role in breaking the cycle of reoffending which has both social and economic benefits. We look forward to helping young offenders and their families to find and keep a home and avoid the tragedy of homelessness.”

A shortage of social housing, problems with affordability and the perception of ex-offenders as risky or undesirable tenants are just some of the barriers which lead to many young offenders becoming homeless on their release. The service supports ex-offenders to overcome these challenges and to reintegrate back into society.

The Young Offenders Institute in Polmont is designed to hold around 700 inmates.

Advisors at the housing advice service will help prisoners keep a home by working with landlords and a range of other agencies to sustain a tenancy until release, access and keep a home by discussing housing options and working with social and private landlords to help secure a tenancy and support resettlement.

Help to improve housing is also available through the provision of pre-release life skills training providing information and core skills to help someone sustain a home after they leave prison.

Kenneth Ferguson, Director of The Robertson Trust, said: “We are delighted to support the Shelter Scotland Housing Advice Service at Polmont, as part of the Trust’s long term investment in reducing reoffending. By helping young offenders to find and keep a safe and secure home, the Housing Advice Service has the potential to change young people’s lives.”

The total population of prisoners in custody in Scotland in October 2014 stood at 7,755.


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