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Prisoners: Accommodation on Leaving Prison

Volume 750: debated on Thursday 5 December 2013

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on reoffending rates of providing stable accommodation for those leaving prison.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a vice-president of Shelter, the homelessness charity. On release from prison, finding a home may be the biggest problem facing ex-offenders. Fewer social rented homes are available to meet demand and, with deposits for mortgages out of reach of those on low incomes, private renting may be the only option.

In 2011, the prison population in England and Wales reached a record high of 88,000. Ex-offenders are more likely to be male, young and have children under 18 when they enter prison compared to 38% of the general population. They are also likely to be socially excluded, economically disadvantaged and much more likely than the general population to have a mental health problem. They are likely to have grown up in care or in a disadvantaged family. Around half were found to have a history of debt problems. Four in 10 offenders lack financial services such as bank accounts.

Before going to prison, 11% of ex-offenders owned a home, while just over one-third rented; 16% were homeless, either sleeping rough or in temporary accommodation; and others were living rent free with a friend, paying board in someone else’s home, or living with family and in shared ownership housing. Offenders are less likely than the general population to have a home before entering prison and it is often not clear where they will go when they leave. A 2008 study by the Ministry of Justice surveyed nearly 5,000 offenders and combined the results with reoffending records over a number of years. The study concluded that ex-offenders were more likely to reoffend when they had a problem with both employment and housing. Figures also show that offenders who are homeless upon entering prison have a much higher reconviction rate within one year of release, more than three-quarters being reconvicted. Ex-offenders themselves report that homelessness is a principal cause of reoffending, and the St Giles Trust in its through-the-gate advice service identified homelessness as often being a key factor in reoffending. There is evidence that prisoners who have accommodation arranged on release are four times more likely to have employment, education or training arranged once they leave prison than those who do not have accommodation in place.

What sort of housing advice do ex-offenders receive? It seems that housing needs assessments are not conducted in a consistent way because they are carried out by a diverse range of people, including prison officers, probation officers and voluntary sector staff. A survey found that just one in five initial assessments is carried out by housing specialists. A recent Homeless Link study revealed a big variation in support received by those in different parts of the country. A number of organisations provide housing advice within prisons. Shelter has developed its prison advice services with a peer mentor model, meaning that existing prisoners are given skills and responsibilities alongside professional housing advisers. Some housing and support providers, such as Stonham, provide their own supported accommodation for ex-offenders. Once offenders have left prison, they will also have access to a range of housing advice available to the general public, through Citizens Advice or the Shelter helpline. In the year to October 2012, Shelter services outside prison were contacted by at least 920 ex-offenders.

Evidence from Homeless Link suggests that housing advice is most effective when advisers work closely with probation staff, local authority contacts and other advisers. Evidence from the St Giles Trust shows that ex-offenders value being met at the prison gates by service staff to help sort out immediate accommodation issues. However, many barriers are faced by ex-offenders in finding or retaining an existing home on release from prison, such as shortage of housing with support needs, not meeting the criteria for local authority support through homeless legislation, difficulties in accessing the private rented sector, often due to affordability, and the prejudice of landlords against ex-offenders and benefit claimants.

Those leaving prison after serving a short sentence may be able to prevent eviction by continuing to communicate with their landlord or bank. Failure to do this is a major cause of ex-offenders losing their home while in prison. Advisers can make this contact to prevent the loss of a tenancy or to terminate a tenancy to prevent a build-up of rent arrears.

So what of the future? Ex-offenders in general are younger and poorer than the general population and much less likely to own a home. More than half are reliant on welfare to support their income. They can lose their secure social homes when in prison if they build up rent arrears or have been convicted of certain related offences. The Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Act 2012 could prevent social tenants in prison sub-letting their homes to avoid rent arrears. Secure social tenancies are of particular value to more vulnerable people in helping them to rebuild their lives. Some councils are already introducing two-year contracts for young people and suggesting that people with convictions could be excluded from social housing altogether.

Private renting is fast becoming the only realistic option for ex-offenders, especially in London and the south-east. Evidence collected by Shelter and Crisis shows that some ex-offenders value the chance to move away from their old networks as this can help them to avoid offending and substance misuse. Evidence from Homeless Link suggests that ex-offenders can struggle to maintain private rented tenancies due to landlords’ attitudes, while the cost of starting a tenancy can be well over £1,000.

Sweeping changes to welfare and a reduction in the number of rented homes will affect many people. It is vital that housing advice services for prisoners and those commissioning them respond to the challenges. Prison Service commissioners must make best use of the evidence on housing and reoffending when making the decisions, particularly bearing in mind how stable accommodation reduces reoffending. Housing for Women’s Re-Unite project has found that 38% of women prisoners expect to be homeless on release. Access to support for them is rarely available, but without it the 1,700 children separated from their mothers due to imprisonment will often remain in care.

Commissioners should consider what sort of housing advice is available in each prison and who is providing it. The outcomes and effectiveness of the initial housing needs assessment that each prisoner is given should be considered. Shelter services have discovered that including other prisoners to help deliver a service can encourage greater participation from new prisoners. This happens in Sweden, a country with a population that is a fraction of ours, where prisoners share in the running of prisons and help in finding post-prison accommodation as a matter of course. In the UK, those prisoners helping in the service benefit as well in that they develop new skills and build self-esteem. Evidence from Homeless Link suggests an integrated approach to advice—for instance, by addressing mental health problems along with housing difficulties.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, for tabling this short debate on an issue of real concern to those of us who take an interest in the effective management and resettlement of offenders. “A roof, a relationship and a job: the key goals in future planning” is the old jingle I used to hear in this context when I was a social worker and the release of prisoners was being discussed. All three are equally important and interdependent but are difficult and often illusive when you are at that difficult sharp end, either as the soon-to-be ex-prisoner or the service provider. Turning hopes and plans into reality on which so much depends can be an unnerving process at best and if not realised can result in a return journey to jail.

The question today focuses on accommodation as the key element in the triad of issues. Finding a job when you have nowhere to go is a crucial and sometimes desperate process. Where are you going to live? Without a job, how do you pay the rent? How do you get a job without an address? You often have to do this without a partner, or with one who does not want you.

An MoJ study in 2012 found that 15% of prisoners were homeless before custody. Of these, the majority stated that they would need help to find somewhere to live, but 79% of this group were reconvicted within a year of release compared with 47% of those with accommodation before custody. The key fact is that prisoners who have accommodation arranged for them on release are four times more likely to get employment, education or training than those who do not. The NOMS annual report last year showed that 12% of prisoners released from custody had no settled accommodation. That is likely to be an underestimate as the arrangements made for them have often turned out to be very fragile or temporary. The link between homelessness and further reoffending is clear but, with accommodation in place, the reduction in reoffending is also clear.

The trouble is that there is no statutory provision of resettlement support or housing advice in prisons. I have been in prisons where such support or advice is locally organised or some voluntary organisation has a presence and can give advice, but it falls to the individual prisons and the right personnel, which might include prison resettlement workers and sometimes prisoners trained to give housing advice. However, it seems to be a case of pot luck. NOMS does not keep a central body of information. Services may be locally and/or regionally commissioned, but affordable suitable housing, including hostels, which are often oversubscribed, is hard to come by, even with professional help. Although local councils have a duty to provide information about local housing options, what is on offer is often no more than bed and breakfast. Social housing requires proof of a local connection, which is often very difficult to demonstrate, and proof of need over non-ex-offenders is equally hard. At each stage of the journey where things are difficult and unstable, so the risk of reoffending is high.

The other crucial issue for an ex-prisoner is a job, and that is extremely difficult without an address. Citizens Advice found that one-quarter of employers would not consider employing a homeless person. Accessing benefits or registering with a GP is equally hard. There are localised beacons of hope, of course, and these were referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell. The St Giles Trust is one such organisation. It runs a through-the-gate programme of intensive help, with trained caseworkers who are often ex-prisoners. They provide expert help with impressive outcomes, cutting the reoffending rate by 40%. The London Probation Trust offers a similar service. The roof and job aspects of the jingle, if not necessarily the relationship part, are being realised by these organisations, and we know that the Government plan to provide more through-the-gate help in the future.

However, I remind the Minister that, with its planned and imminent decimation, the role of the probation service will be reduced to three specific areas, which do not include the complex task of the rehabilitation of the homeless and jobless ex-offenders whom we are discussing. This job involves knowledge, expertise and protocols in working with local authorities. Can he tell the Committee how the new community rehabilitation companies, which have not yet given any information on how they will work with local authorities over their ongoing rehabilitation and housing aims, can take over this role? How can he ensure that the challenging accommodation and rehabilitation needs of this particular vulnerable group of ex-prisoners will be properly and effectively met in the future? I look forward to his reply.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Rendell of Babergh for introducing this debate and for her commitment to issues of housing, homelessness and offending. I shall approach these important issues partly through the experience that I gained of drug and alcohol-related offending when I was chair of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse.

As has been said, it is well known that most offenders have multiple problems: illiteracy, mental health and substance misuse issues, for example. We also know that the percentage of those reoffending after being in prison is unacceptably high. Many factors contribute to this, and, as we have heard, accommodation is one of them.

Recent research by the Third Sector Research Centre at the University of Southampton reminds us that about a third of offenders are homeless before or after imprisonment, and that housing is a key factor in reoffending rates. The research recommends that strong relationships between housing advice agencies and local authorities should be built. Some prisons do now have links with third sector organisations, and some have a dedicated housing adviser. There are problems. Sometimes local authorities put up barriers to prisoner resettlement. They may judge ex-offenders ineligible for housing because they are said to be “intentionally homeless”, or they fail to inform their landlord of a sentence or they commit an offence. They may be considered ineligible due to unacceptable behaviour and may not be judged a priority. Prisoners can be moved to any area in the country but are eligible for housing only in their own area. Moving people around can cause multiple and severe problems. For example, a substance misuser’s record of treatment may not always follow that person immediately; the system becomes clogged up. I know that this system has become somewhat more efficient—and I shall say more in a minute about integrated services—but a prisoner with special needs, such as substance misuse, should surely be monitored as a priority, and an intervention plan should follow him or her.

Recent policy developments may make matters worse. Welfare reform will affect housing benefit, and funding cuts to the criminal justice system may reduce housing support in prisons. The Localism Act 2011 gives local authorities more permission to exclude new applicants. The removal of ring-fencing for the Supporting People budget could limit pathway programmes for those with multiple needs and could affect help with services, with supported accommodation and towards independent living. Will the Minister comment on this?

With regard to substance misuse, there is now a range of substance misuse residential treatment providers who are ready, willing and able to provide treatment and accommodation as an alternative to a custody package. Several of these providers have been developing their expertise in this area over the past few years and are now expert in the rehabilitation of offenders who are also substance misusers. The staff teams of such providers are generally made up of people who have been in prison and/or are substance misusers themselves. As such, they can show that recovery is possible and lives can be turned around. Accommodation such as this is more effective than hostels, where recovery is impossible if the residents are chaotic and still drinking or using drugs. The 2012 drug strategy set out a plan to focus on recovery for addicts and this was reflected in the guidelines issued to prisons in 2010, which stated that prisoners sentenced to more than six months should work towards becoming drug free. Prisoners were asked what worked. Integrated services in prison involving treatment, relationships, employment and housing were given as reasons for recovery and for reducing reoffending.

The Labour Government’s public service agreement 16 —PSA 16—aimed to ensure that such socially excluded adults were given a chance to improve their lives by increasing settled accommodation and employment, education and training. It stated that a home and a job are the core foundations of normal, everyday life. Rehabilitation following custody is complex, but unless a determined effort is made to rehabilitate these men and women with severe problems, reoffending and the revolving door syndrome are likely to be expensive and disruptive for those involved, and for society.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, on securing this debate. I begin with a local perspective. I work in the city of Derby, and this time last year I organised the Redfern Commission, which brought people together to look at how citizens can help each other improve and develop the quality of life as the welfare state begins to recede. One of the sessions we had was about the police and the probation services. Some of the local statistics develop some of the insights already offered. Offenders, we were told, were more likely to have been in care, be unemployed, have been a truant, have family members convicted of crime, have writing and numeracy skills below that of an 11 year-old, be a drug user or have two or more mental disorders. That is a very complex set of issues for any person to deal with. The key thing for somebody like that is stability, and accommodation is at the root of stability of place and stability of relationship.

We were told that locally 60% of short-term prisoners and 50% of all prisoners reoffended, but only 35% of those who did community service did. That again says something about stability, relationships and putting the person in a bigger context than just being left to their own devices. In Derby, there is an organisation I am proud to be associated with called Derventio. It works with the homeless, especially ex-offenders. I want to read from a letter from a young woman who has been helped by this organisation. She wrote:

“You know about my difficult relationships and the domestic violence that led me to self-harm. You know that I was often in prison and didn’t care but I’d like you to know that the opportunity of accommodation has been a godsend”.

She goes on to say that she now feels secure and hopeful and she ends the letter saying:

“I want my life to improve”.

The stability in place and relationships has given her the confidence and the extra resource to begin to overcome that complex of handicap.

I want to name four or five issues that the Minister might like to comment on as we look at this issue in more detail. How do we get better liaison between those giving housing advice in prison and those who organise local government housing allocation? How do we get a better dialogue and joined-up thinking, not least with all the different policies that local authorities have? In my experience, and I visit a couple of prisons locally, too many prisoners lack information and too many people who might try to help them on the outside do not really know the extent of prisoners’ vulnerability and the problems they face. I echo the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, about how that is going to be delivered with the changes in the probation service. How are we going to assess prisoners’ vulnerability better and how are we going to give them better advice when in prison and as they come out about housing?

As we know, benefits are stopped when somebody is in prison. Would it not be much better to suspend them? In the crucial time after somebody leaves prison, having to get re-established to claim benefits means that without support, particularly with accommodation, they are susceptible to falling into bad ways. There could also be much better training in prison about the management of money and the responsibilities of being a tenant. These are basic things that, in my experience, people are not up to speed with. Prisoners often have no deposit to enter the private rental sector which, as we have heard, may be one of the few places open to them. Could there be a targeted grant scheme with a negotiation about who would receive the grant and what they would give in return? Quite frankly, that small investment would be much better than the colossal expenditure if people reoffend and go back into the system.

Some local churches offer support to some of the prisoners I meet when I visit. It reminds me that we need to be more proactive in linking with agencies with expertise in housing and accommodation. It seems to me that the connection between housing and a lower reoffending rate is clear and it would be in the interests of government, society and prisoners if we could maximise the enabling of people leaving prison to be housed, giving stability of place and of relationship.

My Lords, I also thank my noble friend Lady Rendell for introducing this vital debate. It always seems to me that if we were starting with a plain sheet of paper for policy we would have a penal system that looked nothing like the one we have at the moment. I believe that it would also be much more economic to operate. As we have heard, many prisoners have mental health problems, come from dysfunctional families or have been in the company of the worst elements of society. They have lived a nightmare, after which it would be quite difficult to imagine them ending up anywhere but in prison.

Their release from prison, when it comes, is a very crucial and sensitive area, as we have been hearing. Accommodation is vital, but they also desperately need human relationships—people who will take their hands and walk back with them into rehabilitation. This is a vital issue. Surely, rehabilitation must be central to our penal system. It matters not just for the individuals but economically for society. It certainly matters for the well-being, security and living conditions of ordinary people in their own society. We want fewer criminals around, so we want the rehabilitation process to be successful.

I follow closely the research and advice provided by that excellent organisation the Howard League. I hope that the Government follow it as closely as I do. I found its recent report particularly interesting, and I draw some of its points to the attention of the Minister.

The report recognised that men and women released from prison with no home could be temporarily accommodated in hostels. However, many men interviewed in the study found hostels unduly restrictive and disempowering, because of stringent terms and conditions, especially those which exclude them from employment. They said they would rather spend their sentence in prison. While the women in the research sample said that they felt safe and looked after in hostel accommodation, they were nevertheless frequently moved away from existing family networks to be accommodated, due to the poor geographic spread of hostels.

Is it not important, as the Howard League argues, for routine inspections of approved premises to take place, on the model developed for inspecting prisons? Inspections should consider capacity, overcrowding, communal facilities, privacy and bedrooms, as well as the hostel’s regime.

The report points out that sentenced prisoners are often released with no accommodation and no job. The Government announced, in the comprehensive spending review, that JSA payments would be delayed for seven days. Prisoners rarely have previous wages to draw on. So the discharge grant of £46 will have to last for at least a week, often longer, if their benefits have not been arranged prior to release. Remand prisoners, who are released direct from court, receive no discharge grant and no resettlement help. Government plans to impose at least one year’s supervision on short-sentence prisoners will not help prisoners on remand who are either found not guilty or given a community sentence that does not involve supervision.

There is a sad lack of authoritative national statistics on the number of people who are homeless and are remanded or sentenced to prison. The Howard League, in its research, recommends that both prisons and local authorities should be required to record the number of prisoners making homeless applications to their local authority.

In the age when we look for joined-up government, let us note another finding: that the bedroom tax will have a negative impact on the availability of accommodation for those leaving prison. The majority of homeless people who have been in contact with the criminal justice system are single and need to be housed in smaller properties. Increased demand for these properties caused by the underoccupancy charge will make it more difficult to find suitable housing.

I sometimes wonder when I look at the reality of how it is all operating, whether we speak about rehabilitation but have a secret plot to ensure that it is as unlikely as possible to succeed. Either we believe in rehabilitation or we do not. If we do, we need to make sure that the provision of services, the arrangements, for individuals—they are all individuals with different needs—are in place.

My Lords, in his seminal report on the riots in Strangeways and other prisons in 1990, my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf opined that the three factors that were most likely to prevent a released prisoner reoffending were a home, a job and a family or stable relationship—all of which were put at risk by imprisonment. He advocated, so far unsuccessfully—although I have to acknowledge the intent behind the recent recategorising of 70 prisons as resettlement prisons—that prisons should be grouped into what he called “community clusters”, which today would be defined as regional clusters, so that this damage could be mitigated by holding prisoners as close to home as possible, thereby enabling local organisations to be involved in the rehabilitation of their own local prisoners. He said that evidence showed that local ownership of a problem resulted in much greater commitment to finding a solution.

I am very glad that Matthew Purvis’s excellent Library briefing for this debate, for which I am extremely grateful, includes three important non-governmental documents. These are Vision Housing and Interserve’s First Home, Second Chance; Shelter’s Unlocking Stable Homes; and Homeless Link’s Preventing Reoffending and Homelessness. They spell out many of the questions that I had hoped would have been answered in the Ministry of Justice’s May 2013 strategy, Transforming Rehabilitation. This is being implemented without debate in either House. Had today’s debate been held in two weeks’ time, noble Lords would also have had the benefit of another important non-governmental report, No Fixed Abode: The Implications For Homeless People In The Criminal Justice System. This has just been quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and will be published by the Howard League, as he said, which has allowed me to quote from it.

While the Government’s strategy appears to be strong in intent, it is by no means so strong on detail, suggesting that, rather than lay down what is to be done, they prefer to refer to what they call,

“the broader life management issues that often lead offenders back to crime”,

without specifying what they are.

Confirming the need for something more definite to be done to limit homelessness, the Howard League quotes the MoJ 2012 report, which was also quoted by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater. Three figures come out very strongly from that report: 60% believed that having a place to live was important in stopping them reoffending in the future; 37% said that they would require help in finding somewhere to live, and 84% of those said they would require a lot of help; and 79% of those who had been homeless before custody were reconvicted in the first year after release, compared with 47% of those who had had accommodation.

If such detailed requirements and their implications for reoffending were known by the Ministry of Justice in 2012, why were they not answered in detail in 2013? What about laying down what ought to happen? In some prisons that I inspected, I found that housing on release was tackled from initial reception through a dedicated housing unit, sometimes staffed by prisoners, which asked every prisoner on reception whether they had somewhere to live on release; this was followed by action taken to ensure that they had. Why was this not made common practice in every prison?

The Ministry of Justice would also, if it had looked around, have come across—and hopefully have been able to change—a policy introduced by the then Conservative Government in 1995 that I believe has massively increased the problem, particularly for women. This policy stipulated that council accommodation had to be surrendered if the tenant was absent for more than 13 weeks, against the advice given to the Minister at the time that it ought to be for a year.

Reflecting on probation, which has already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, have the Government done anything about the short-term prisoners who are going to have to undergo a year’s supervision? Where are they to live and what about the cost of getting from accommodation to the place of supervision? Summing all this up, it seems to me that there is a great need to co-ordinate a great deal of good practice that is going on locally and being done by people who are taking the initiative on their own behalf.

As always, five minutes is far too short to do more than scratch the surface of concerns about the impact that a stable accommodation has on reoffending rates. In thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, and congratulating her on giving us this opportunity, I hope that the Minister will reflect on the points raised and tell us what the Ministry of Justice believes to be the answers to them. I hope, too, that on reflection, the Ministry of Justice will realise that the impact on reoffending rates of its strategy could have been greater if there had been debates in this House. If the points made today had been brought out much earlier, they perhaps would have been able to impact on the strategy.

My Lords, some time ago I was talking to a police officer in north London. He told me of an incident where a young thug had mugged an elderly woman and left her unconscious in the street—a deplorable crime. The young thug was caught, and the police officer then went to the young thug’s home. There he found, mid-morning, the young man’s mother spaced out on drugs. The place was in an abominable condition, and there were dog faeces everywhere. The police officer said to me, “That man will go to Feltham prison, and when he comes out he will go back to the same environment that he left”, so the cycle of crime will go on. Unless one avoids sending people back to those sorts of conditions, we will not get any further. In the case of the incident to which I just referred, who should be responsible for seeing that it does not happen? Who should see that the young man is not discharged from Feltham and sent back with nothing to help or support him or stabilise his life?

I was looking at various bits of paper that we received and found this quote:

“When someone leaves prison, we send them back onto the streets with 46 quid in their pockets. Back to the same streets. Back to the same groups of people. Back to the same chaotic life styles. Back to the same habits as before. So why are we surprised when so many commit crime all over again? It costs the economy at least £9.5 billion a year. It blights communities, and ruins lives. It is a national scandal”.

Who do you suppose said that? Any offers? The Minister will know. It was said at the Conservative Party conference last year by the right honourable Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Justice. It seems to me that in that one quote we have it all. Yes, it is a national scandal, but the question is: what are we doing about it? It is fairly clear that the cost for the country of dealing with people who have offended and go to prison is enormous. I wonder whether we should not go to more trouble to set off the cost of their imprisonment against housing and other support, which would then lessen the chance that they would go to prison. If we can get that right, we will be almost in a win-win position where we can stabilise and help people so that they do not fill up the prisons again.

When I was in the Commons in the 1980s, we were appalled when the prison population went above 43,000 or 44,000. We thought that the world had come to an end and that the system would no longer sustain itself. Now it is at least twice that number and is going up and up, and we do not seem to be as bothered now as we were then. That was some years ago, and there was still a Conservative Government, albeit a different sort of Conservative Government—I should say that the current Government is a coalition with a Conservative majority.

The Howard League has provided some useful information, as has Shelter. We desperately need more accurate statistics. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, why is it not the norm, when prisoners are discharged, that we do something directly about their housing in all instances? We need some statistics to demonstrate whether that is happening. How many people being discharged are going into accommodation and how many are left to fend for themselves in the circumstances that I described earlier in my example? My noble friend Lord Judd referred to prisoners being discharged. The Minister said that they get £46. Under the new system, they get no JSA for seven days. I do not think that prisoners discharged with £46 in their pocket will find it very easy to find somewhere to live, eat and survive for seven days before they get any social security benefit. Perhaps that has changed recently. I would like some assurance from the Minister that it has changed.

Some statistics from the Ministry of Justice were quoted, and they are a pretty savage indictment. There are also some interesting figures in a useful document from the Library with regard to Vision Housing, which deals with prisoners. It has some impressive statistics, based on a small sample, on the benefit of a lower reoffending rate when people are given housing on discharge from prison. The arithmetic is clear. We could be saving money, not wasting it, if we did more with housing so that people discharged from prison have some accommodation to go to. I am not saying that we should put them above everybody else in the community, but if we do not do this, all we will get are people reoffending at enormous cost to the public and to their local communities.

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend for raising this issue so that we can debate it today. It seems that there is a widely accepted consensus among the speakers today. The first consensual belief is that ex-prisoners who have housing will be less likely to offend. I do not think anyone would challenge that assertion. We have also heard of the central role of local authorities in co-ordinating services for prisoners when they come out of prison.

I want to make two general points. The first has been made by the right reverend Prelate, the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. It is about the consequences of the Offender Rehabilitation Bill, which gives 12 months’ after-custody supervision to offenders who are sent to custody for one year or less. In practice, that will mean that many thousands of prisoners will be coming out and will be supervised by the community rehabilitation companies or the National Probation Service. It will be much easier to supervise prisoners if they have an address, whereas it is almost impossible to supervise them if they do not. If the Government want the benefits of the Offender Rehabilitation Bill to be seen, it is crucial that offenders have an address so that the probation service can do its work.

It is also common ground in this debate that housing is a central factor, but it is not the only factor. Local authorities need to hold the court in education, employment and training, health access, mental health access and drug and alcohol support, which my noble friend Lady Massey talked about. I do not think it is the role of the local authority to help prisoners to develop stable relationships; nevertheless, that is an important factor. It certainly will be the role of local authorities to provide the administrative structure for the community rehabilitation companies, the National Probation Service and all these other agencies to work together.

The other issue that I want to raise has not been talked about so far today, and that is the increasing role of computer technology in prisons. I quote from Through the Gateway: How Computers Can Transform Rehabilitation, which was written by the Prison Reform Trust and the Prison Education Trust and published in 2013.

“ICT could contribute far more to resettlement outcomes if prisoners were enabled to apply for housing online. On a prison visit, a resettlement officer said that they work with 35 different housing agencies and local authorities, each with its own applications, which can run to 30 pages. He explained that being able to complete them online would save a considerable amount of paper and time. That prison was processing about 200 housing applications a week. Accommodation availability is also short-term and information must be updated regularly. In addition, the areas in which people might wish to resettle are quite local and require the flexibility and reach of online resources”.

Clearly, the use of ICT in prisons raises a host of difficult issues, not least the vulnerability of former victims to being accessed through the internet. But it will not be long before the only way that you can apply for housing is via the internet, so there needs to be a structure for prisoners to do that while they are in prison.

There is no doubt that the housing of former prisoners is a complex issue. It is one that is evolving. We talked about the supervision that will make it even more important and I also talked about technology, which is changing the way that these applications are made. The Government, I am sure, are aware of these issues. They need their own co-ordinated and strategic approach to address them and I look forward to the Minister's response.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, for giving the Committee the opportunity to discuss this important subject, which I will come on to talk about. However, it would be remiss of me if I did not mention that it was a happy birthday for one of us, I am reliably informed. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is celebrating his birthday today and I hope that after we have done with the serious matters of the day he will spend some time celebrating this notable day in his life. I offer my congratulations to him on this occasion.

As the Committee is aware and as some noble Lords said, this Government are determined to break the depressing merry-go-round of crime. The cycle of reoffending has a dreadful impact on the lives of decent, hard-working members of society and creates needless numbers of victims in our communities. I was part of the debate that took place during the passage of the Offender Rehabilitation Bill through this House. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, speaks with great experience in this regard. I reassure him that when he contributes, the Government listen—if not to all, at least to some of what he says. It influences our thinking. However, the overall objective of reducing reoffending, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, has just said, is shared by all of us. This is not just about the victims; it is also about the offenders and the importance of ensuring that they do not go on to reoffend. Many noble Lords quoted the reoffending statistics. It is vital that we take action to help offenders to turn away from crime, and knowing what works to support people to get their lives back on track is important for achieving this.

At the moment, nearly half of all offenders released from prison offend again within a year. Changing the law to provide that virtually all offenders released from custody will be subject to supervision and rehabilitation services is just one important part of our overall package of transforming rehabilitation reforms. My noble friend Lady Linklater talked about roofs, relationships and jobs. I agree with those sentiments. Ensuring that we put in place a system that is sustainable but also takes into account our current financial constraints is important. It is therefore essential that money spent on rehabilitating offenders has the greatest possible impact.

In that regard, as noble Lords will know, we are creating much greater opportunities for a diverse range of organisations to play a role in rehabilitating offenders. I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that we want the expertise, skills and knowledge of all the different organisations involved, including the public, private and voluntary sectors, to come together to be used to tackle the issues that lead offenders back to crime—whether that is homelessness, the lack of accommodation that we are specifically talking about today, substance misuse, mentioned by my noble friend Lady Massey, or a lack of training and education.

We believe that our reforms will put in place a system that encourages innovation to improve outcomes. Providers will be given the flexibility to do what works to reduce reoffending and to tailor rehabilitative support to specific offenders. We will also pay them according to their success in reducing reoffending.

Using evidence to inform service delivery is not necessarily a straightforward matter. It is certainly not a simple case of selecting from a menu of options. We know that for some interventions the evidence on effectiveness is strong. For other interventions, the evidence may be weaker because the interventions are new or harder to research.

The Ministry of Justice recently published an overview of key evidence relating to reducing reoffending by adult offenders. This evidence summary was produced to support the work of policy-makers, practitioners and other partners involved in offender management and related service provision. We know from the available evidence on housing that the provision of suitable accommodation, as many noble Lords have said, can help to reduce the likelihood of an individual reoffending. I agree totally with the sentiment that that is only part of the solution. Analysis of 30 offenders who had completed the Preventing Offender Accommodation Loss project during 2009 and 2010 showed that 33% reoffended within 12 months compared with a 12-month reoffending rate of 53% across a matched control group. The point was made about sharing information, and that is very important.

There is also evidence that offenders who were homeless before custody were more likely to reoffend on release from prison than those who were not. A research paper published by the MoJ on 28 November showed that prisoners from one survey who reported being homeless before custody were nearly twice as likely to reoffend in the year after release compared with prisoners who did not report being homeless. Preliminary findings from an Offender Management Community Cohort Study also showed that reoffending was higher among those who did not have their employment, training, education and accommodation needs met. However, the provision of suitable accommodation may not reduce levels of reoffending by itself. Accommodation needs are often related to, and/or complicated by, other risk factors, such as substance abuse, employment and mental health issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, mentioned Shelter. I am aware of the project that it is conducting in the prison in Leeds, where housing advisers are talking with prisoners about helping them to secure better accommodation. It is therefore important that those working with offenders to reduce reoffending look at tackling the full range of offenders’ life management issues and focus on what works for a particular individual.

We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on his birthday, about the importance of statistics and good information. We have set up the Justice Data Lab to allow all organisations working with offenders to access central reoffending data so that they can better understand the impact that their work has and focus on what works. We have done this in response to feedback from providers, who highlighted the need to improve research and evaluation capability by allowing access to high-quality reoffending data. The Justice Data Lab is of particular value to smaller organisations, which may struggle to evaluate the effectiveness of their rehabilitation work. Being able to understand the effectiveness of a particular programme or intervention should help organisations to improve the services that they deliver and, ultimately, have a greater impact on the lives of those with whom they work.

I turn to some specific questions. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, raised the importance of tackling some of the issues on the mental health agenda, and offender drug and alcohol abuse. We are working closely with the Department of Health to reshape drug treatment services and deliver government commitments within the offender, drug, alcohol and mental health agenda. These include piloting drug recovery wings; testing a new through-the-gate model for substance misuse services that will complement the introduction of transforming rehabilitation proposals; developing and testing liaison and diversion services in police custody suites and at courts; and exploring options for intensive treatment based on alternative studies. There are others but, in the interests of time, I shall write to the noble Baroness on that issue and put a copy of the letter in the Library.

We want to help all those working with offenders to see clearly what works and to help create a culture of best practice and transparency. As I said earlier, sometimes the evidence about what works to reduce reoffending is not clear-cut, but this should not prevent the consideration of new approaches. In the absence of decisive evidence, partners will want to have a sound theoretical rationale for their approaches. Expertise, whether scientific or operational, will inform these approaches. The noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, talked about patchy needs and assessments. The new through-the-gate service that we are putting in place under Transforming Rehabilitation will mean that contractual requirements will be placed on the community rehabilitation companies to provide a resettlement service. Finding accommodation for those leaving prison will be a key feature of this particular service.

My noble friend Lady Linklater and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, in their very thoughtful contributions, raised the importance of localism. I speak as someone who has experience of working in local government. The Government recognise that local engagement is key to the successful rehabilitation of offenders, and probation trusts have done some excellent work in developing these local relationships. Contracted providers will need to demonstrate, through competition, how they engage effectively with key local partners. On the public sector side, we intend to maintain a strong local delivery structure. Within trusts, much local engagement happens not just at trust level but in the approximately 150 local delivery units across the country. Our intention is to preserve a delivery structure which enables the public sector probation service to continue its work with local authorities and other agencies at this level.

The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, also raised the issue of ring-fenced budgets. The responsibility for providing accommodation services for people leaving prisons and other places of prescribed detention lies with local authorities. Some voluntary and community organisations provide accommodation services. Local authorities, we believe, are best placed to assess and prioritise the needs within local communities.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, talked about the geographic location of release. The introduction of designated resettlement prisons under Transforming Rehabilitation means that we aim for the majority of offenders to be released from a prison near where they will be resettled. They will also have their resettlement needs assessed and addressed by either a community rehabilitation company or the National Probation Service prior to their release. We believe that we should use the best available evidence and thinking to take well informed decisions about the most effective and efficient approaches to supporting innovation and improving rehabilitation outcomes.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, talked about the challenges of ICT. Again, in the interests of time, perhaps I could write to him in more detail on that matter.

I wish to reassure noble Lords. When I visited Peterborough, for example, I saw at first hand how offenders who are engaging with people who have already been through the system, who are being given work opportunities and who are being empowered and having their training needs, housing needs and professional needs identified can become more productive citizens when they leave prison. I am sure all noble Lords share that aim with us.

In conclusion, our reforms mean that more offenders will get targeted rehabilitation support to help them to turn their lives around. We want to draw on the best services that can be offered across the board from practitioners in the public, private and voluntary sectors. We believe that the prize, supported by the evidence of interventions, the extension of supervision to short-sentence offenders and the move to a through-the-gate system of support, is one that the whole House supports. I welcome this debate for the additional information and expertise that it has provided.

Sitting suspended.