Today our Executive Director for External Affairs, Laura Seebohm, gave evidence to the Justice Committee’s Women in Prison Inquiry, with today’s session focused on resettlement of women being released from prison.
Whilst the content of the Female Offending Strategy was welcomed by the sector when it was released in 2018, the progress made has been disappointing. There is a lot of energy and financial resource put into relatively small and specific projects that might make great headlines but distract us from what we know works – holistic, women-centred services in the community.
To provide quality resettlement support for women so that they can reintegrate into their communities on release from prison and not reoffend, we need a cross-departmental response. So many of the drivers of offending and reoffending lie outside of the remit of criminal justice services.
For example, there are still multiple barriers that women who are leaving prison face in securing stable accommodation – some are still classed as intentionally homeless, accommodation often cannot be secured until the day of release, and women at risk of domestic abuse are often ineligible for refuges due to their convictions. Even highly successful initiatives such as Housing First do not always reach women who need it – Housing First is only for those experiencing entrenched rough sleeping, whereas many women experience hidden homelessness where they might be sofa surfing or involved in exploitative ‘sex for rent’ arrangements. This is why Changing Lives has launched its Leading from the Front Door initiative, calling for a housing-led approach to homelessness that prioritises giving someone their own home with their own front door at the earliest opportunity, regardless of their level of support needs.
Another area that Laura spoke about is the importance of relationships for women. Women in prison have often experienced domestic and/or sexual abuse and are highly stigmatised, so a relationship with someone who is not abusing or judging them is so important. This relationship building is often dismissed as “fluffy” work but, for someone whose voice has been silenced and ignored for so long, something as simple as a conversation over a cup of tea is vital.