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Ex-prisoners (Support)

Volume 626: debated on Thursday 6 July 2017

5. What support the Government provide to women who lose homes and assets as a result of a prison sentence. (900275)

The Justice Department is aware of the link between homelessness and reoffending, which is why we are making sure that we address female offenders’ housing and support needs as an absolute priority.

The Minister has correctly identified the importance of homelessness in reoffending, but will he give much more detail about what specific assistance is given to individuals who leave prison, who we do not want to see reoffending but who need assistance at a crucial time?

The community rehabilitation companies and indeed the national probation service are required to provide the services to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I guarantee that the female offenders strategy, which is due to be released by the end of the year, will concentrate primarily on improving that community offering.

Thirty-eight per cent of women released from prison have no accommodation arranged for them, and more than 46% of women in prison have experienced domestic violence. The Minister knows that many of the problems associated with women prisoners revolve around their mental health. With increasing evidence that autism is to be found among the female population, will the Minister take advantage of this new set of statistics to look at mental health provision for women leaving prison? That is most important.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the question. I am responsible not only for women’s justice but for offender health. In September, I will have two roundtable meetings to discuss the current mental health provision, both for men and for women. We are aware that the combination of mental health not being treated properly and addiction not being treated properly are significant contributors towards recidivism.

Many of the women who are imprisoned have mental health problems. Imprisonment and losing their home and possessions set back their chance of recovery. Will the Minister in his reports pay particular attention to the impact of women with mental health problems when they become homeless and lose all that they have managed to pull together?

Yes, we will. I am aware that a significant proportion of the female population in prison are victims of very difficult circumstances, be they homelessness, coercive relationships and the like. I confirm that the strategy, as I said previously, will concentrate on improving the community offering so that ultimately these women do not commit offences in the first place.

Will the Government confirm that they do not believe in giving prisoners who lose their home any more support than any other person who happens to be in the unfortunate positon of losing their home? Will the Minister confirm that the Government do not believe in giving female prisoners who lose their home more support than male prisoners who lose their home?

I am very glad to be continuing my brief—my hon. Friend always delivers the question that I expect. I assure him that, with regard to access to housing, I am not aware that ex-offenders will be given any more priority than people who have not committed an offence. With reference to whether we treat men and women who have committed offences equally, I am interested in reducing crime and I am convinced that a disproportionate number of women are committing crime because of the way in which they are treated, be it by their partners or indeed by their housing circumstances. I think he will agree that, if we can get this right, we will be reducing crime, which I think is the best outcome.

Vulnerable women on release are not given adequate support, either with housing or with community reintegration. Many return to abusive relationships, drug and alcohol abuse, and, at worst, crime. Does the Minister honestly believe that we are giving women’s life chances parity of esteem in their current treatment?

I agree that we are not getting the treatment of women offenders right. That is why I was eager to introduce a new strategy. The Manchester area provides an example of where the Department is investing in a whole system approach. I do not think Whitehall is the place to make decisions on a woman’s future before, during or after prison. I would prefer to localise decision making so that decisions are made by people who understand the women concerned, so that we can keep them in the community and away from prison.

We will probably be able to take only the Order Paper questions next, and that must be done briefly.