Locked up, then locked out

Cutting re-offending would be one the most effective ways to reduce crime, with almost half of the 80,000 adults released each year from prison committing another offence within a year. For young people serving short sentences for crimes such as burglary and theft, the re-offending rate is over 90%.

Any ‘tough and intelligent’ approach to crime must build on the evidence that stable housing can cut re-offending rates, as it provides a platform for ex-offenders to rebuild their lives.

When somebody leaves prison, their first priority is often answering the question: ‘where will I sleep tonight?’. According to the Ministry of Justice, more than a third of prison leavers need help finding somewhere to stay once they leave. As ex-offenders themselves argue, a lack of options can lead to the conclusion that re-offending and returning to prison is a better option than rough sleeping.

Many ex-offenders have come from unstable housing backgrounds before prison, such as living with a friend, paying board for a room or temporary accommodation. Those who were homeless before prison are more likely to re-offend once they leave.

As the chart below shows, almost as many ex-offenders are sleeping rough before entering prison as own a home.

Where do offenders live before prison?

Source: Ministry of Justice, 2012. Other categories include: living rent free with a friend (12%); paying board in someone else’s home (19%); living with family (3%) and shared ownership housing (2%).


The Government has spoken about the difficulty of cutting re-offending without adequate housing options for those leaving prison. In a speech on crime and punishment last week, the Prime Minister argued for a ‘rehabilitation revolution’ to help give those leaving prison another chance.

However, the reality of today’s housing market means that it is likely to become harder and harder for those leaving prison to find a home.

In a policy briefing published today, we look at how the housing options facing ex-offenders are being squeezed by cuts, changes to social housing, welfare reform and changes to homelessness legislation.

Just as one example, ex-offenders rely disproportionately on financial lifelines such as Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans (which can be used to pay for a deposit on a rented room). However, these loans and grants are effectively being cut from April next year when they are no longer protected by a ring fence. Shelter provides housing advice for offenders at 27 prisons, a frontline service that helps people to find their best housing option, even in tough times.

The mounting pressures of a housing market which prices out people on low incomes, both from renting and buying, will impact especially hard on ex-offenders who have very few options. Cuts to local authority and legal aid budgets will limit the housing and debt advice available to navigate these stormy waters.

If we want to reduce re-offending and therefore crime, it is vital that serious thought is given to how those leaving prison will be able to find and keep a roof over their head. Otherwise, the often discussed revolving door problem of petty crime, short sentences, homelessness and re-offending will only worsen.