More support needed for women leaving prison

The London Assembly has today agreed a motion setting out a number of calls and recommendations to the Mayor, in order to better support women leaving prison.

The circumstances, needs and risks of vulnerable women leaving prison are fundamentally different to those of men leaving prison and all of these women should be provided with safe homes on release.

Everyone leaving prison should have somewhere safe and secure to live, but too many women are released with just £46, a plastic bag of belongings, and no place to live.

New figures from the Governor of Bronzefield prison in Surrey, where a large number of imprisoned women from London are sent, show that 65 per cent of the women released have no safe home to go to.4 For the vast majority of women leaving prison to be homeless is completely unacceptable.

It does not need to be this way. This motion is an opportunity to call for serious reform of the services women receive when leaving prison.

We can create more secure routes to safe, stable homes and a joined-up strategy for trauma-informed services that these Londoners need at a challenging time in their lives.

It was fantastic to have the motion approved unanimously and, with the London Prison’s Mission and a coalition of campaigners, I have been pursuing this issue since I led work on the Police and Crime Committee in 2018 to try to improve these policies.

I also want to commend the Housing Committee for its work around this issue since it was initiated by my predecessor, former Assembly Member Murad Qureshi, when he was Chair of the Committee last year, and thank Labour AM Sem Moema for support in seconding the proposals.

The full text of the motion is:

This Assembly notes the Mayor’s response to the Housing Committee about housing for women leaving prison.

This Assembly further notes the Housing Committee’s submissions to both the Commons Select Justice Committee’s inquiry into women in prison and the Prisons Strategy White Paper.

This Assembly calls on the Mayor to:

  • Acknowledge that the circumstances, needs and risks of vulnerable women leaving prison are fundamentally different to those of men leaving prison and that these must be addressed by ensuring that such women are provided with safe homes on release;
  • Agree and implement a Women’s Prison Release Protocol with co-signatories to the London Blueprint for Women in contact with the Criminal Justice System and encourage London Councils and the G15 Housing Associations to the same;
  • Reaffirm his call to Government to develop and apply in all criminal justice settings a consistent and agreed definition of ‘released homeless’ or ‘released to settled accommodation’;
  • Explore ways in which much-needed funding for technical support – computers and phone calls – can be provided to enable women in prison to engage with local authorities concerning their circumstances and needs for safe accommodation on release;
  • Continue to lobby for a review of sentencing for women, particularly around implementing alternatives to short-term sentences for non-violent offences;
  • Support the London Blueprint delivery partners to develop a communications strategy to share good practice around housing women leaving prison;
  • Reaffirm his call on the Government to reduce prison remands awaiting trial or sentence and to reduce the number of women recalled to prison for breaches of their license conditions;
  • Support improvements to data collated on the reasons why short-term sentenced women are recalled to prison; and
  • Continue to fund structured programmes and pilots as alternatives to custodial sentences.