Every month, hundreds of people are released from prison homeless. Two-thirds are likely to reoffend within a year – a cycle of Cell Street Repeat.
Without a home to go to after being released, it is virtually impossible to maintain or start drug rehabilitation, get a job, build back positive relationships, or reintegrate back into and contribute positively to society. Without somewhere to live, we are setting people up to fail.
Making sure people leaving prison have somewhere to live when released is the first step towards a fair chance. The cost of housing people coming out of prison is eclipsed by the financial, social and personal cost of reoffending. It makes practical, financial sense. Ending homelessness is possible.
Video: Homelessness on release from prison
It can feel like an overwhelming task trying to find somewhere to live after prison, with not much of a second chance.
It’s time we broke the cycle of #CellStreetRepeat and ensured all prison leavers have a home.
Following the publication of the Prisons Strategy White Paper, the Government has committed to funding transitional accommodation for all prison leavers at risk of homelessness. This is a step forward but there is still work to be done.
What needs to happen next?
- To make this work there must be a range of longer-term accommodation options immediately on release and move-on options following the initial twelve-week period.
- There must also be flexible support, alongside accommodation, for those who need it overcome barriers to effective resettlement and be able to successfully stay and thrive.
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Kayley grew up around drugs, with her parents struggling with addiction.
At 16 she started hanging around what she describes as ‘the wrong crowd’, started taking drugs, drinking and getting involved in crime. Before long she was addicted to crack and heroin and she was sofa surfing, never in settled accommodation. “I felt vulnerable”, she said.
“I’ve blocked most of it out, but it was a scary time. I was addicted to drugs, just thinking about my next hit.”
When she had accommodation, she was frequently cuckooed, with drug dealers using her home as a base, as payment. Other times, she was kicked out of accommodation, unable to pay rent because of her addiction.
She fell into sex work in order to fund her addiction, alongside stealing and other offences. She was in and out of prison, being sentenced eight times.
Every time she left prison, she was released back into her local area, without support, either into homelessness or unsuitable housing. She fell directly back into addiction every time and started reoffending.
She said: “It was a never-ending cycle. I went into prison, came out, reoffended and went back. Even when I was moved out of area, I just ended up back with the wrong people, back in my old habits.”
Kayley left prison for the last time in December, in the height the pandemic and was housed with Nacro.
She said: “It’s made a big difference, I’m housed somewhere different, I’ve got support all around me and I wanted to change.
“I didn’t want that life anymore and with the support it’s made a big difference, I’m done now, I want to be different from how I used to be.”
Kayley also wants to train as a counsellor, she wants to use her experiences to help others like her.
She said: “I want to help people who are like me, or who are in situations like mine was.
“It makes a big difference, to be heard by someone that knows what you’re going through.
“People want to change, but don’t always know how, or have someone who understands what it is like, that’s why I want to help people, and to help people who want help.”
In total I’ve been to prison about six times. A couple of other times when I’ve struggled to find somewhere to live I have had to sleep rough after release. I’ve also stayed in a tent for a few nights. It were horrible, it were summer but it were still cold, it were freezing. I felt like I had no purpose. I were getting up just to walk round all day, and the days felt like forever. I didn’t know what to do.
Some people actually feel prison is a better alternative and do go back to committing crime, and to be honest I did too. I wanted to come back to prison otherwise I would have ended up in a worse situation. I needed prison because I was taking drugs and sofa surfing and I were committing crimes and it could’ve ended up a lot more serious. I ended up getting arrested because I wanted to, and I told court that I didn’t want to be released until I had got myself sorted out, I told them I need prison support.
Some people do better in prison than they do outside. And that’s been me in some cases, most cases. I do well in prison, have a good record in prison and then out here it’s a completely different story. It’s weird, in prison you get a job and a routine and then out here you can’t get a job, you can see why people stay in prison.
If I hadn’t had been a stronger person and without the support of Nacro this time round, I would have been back in prison by now, definitely, especially as they released me early, I would have gone straight back to stealing to take drugs.
I was terrified to leave prison because I was being forced to go to an Approved Premises (AP) where I would have to share a bathroom, kitchen and utensils, and other communal spaces with strangers, drug users and alcoholics. I was released during the pandemic, so the fear of people not social distancing felt like the ultimate punishment could be death.
At the AP I was given a dirty room, an induction pack to sign for, and left alone. The toilets were full of human excrement and I found a dead rat in a bucket; no one was interested in helping. I was the most stressed I have ever been and I just didn’t know what to do.
No one at the AP knew how to get in touch with my doctor, community mental health team or my Nacro worker, it was all left to me and I just didn’t know where to start.
I was given a letter from the hostel with no explanation. I later got my dad to read it to me as I can not read or write. It was an immediate bed withdrawal notice. The hostel would not discuss this with us and threatened to have me arrested if I did not go away from the window. My Nacro worker called them but the manager of the AP was busy and so they said they could not do anything.
The next day the police came at 6am and arrested me.
Release from prison is not always good, or something to celebrate for most people. It is absolutely terrifying, especially for those that are being released as homeless and not knowing where to go, how you will get money or benefits, IF or WHEN you will next eat or shower.
I struggled with my mental health and addiction, so I was in and out of prison a few times. Each time I never had a house, so I slept in all sorts of places, the local park, abandoned buildings, wherever I could find. Always the same, a few nights out, maybe clean, then it gets overwhelming, and I would find a way of getting myself back in prison, as bad as it was, at least I had support and a bed. Until I got housed, last time I left prison Nacro had a place ready for me to go to, and mental health support in place. It has made all the difference in the world.