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1,000 prisoners released on to the streets during Covid-19 pandemic

Figures show just how many people are being released into homelessness despite promises that no one would have to sleep rough in the wake of the virus

Woman in prison

Prisoners are being released into homelessness in huge numbers after figures released in parliament revealed that more than 1,000 had gone from behind bars to having nowhere to stay.

Labour’s Shadow Minister for Prisons and Probation Lyn Brown uncovered the figures when she received a written response from the Ministry of Justice’s Lucy Frazer.

Frazer’s answer showed that 82 young adults aged between 18 and 24 were released into rough sleeping and homelessness from March 23 to April 30 alongside 89 women and 840 men in England and Wales. A further 1,209 people from across all three categories were released with unknown living circumstances at the same time.

“If prison leavers don’t have a decent place to stay, they don’t get a second chance and public aren’t protected,” said Brown after the stats were released. “The Government must guarantee all prison leavers are provided with the right support to break the cycle of re-offence, not just now but permanently.”

Frazer stressed that the Government has spent an additional £22 million per year in helping prisoners prepare for release by working on gaining settled accommodation, employment and managing debt and finances through Communication Rehabilitation Company contracts.

The Ministry of Justice has also secured funding to house all individuals released from prison who are at risk of homelessness. However, much like the Everyone In scheme that has been used to protect rough sleepers throughout the pandemic, the response is set to be reviewed on June 26.

She said: “We are working closely across Government to ensure that all individuals released at risk of homelessness receive necessary support to help them secure somewhere to live.

“Additionally, Government has now decided that because of public health concerns and public protection considerations, there is a need to provide accommodation for a larger cohort of prison leavers.”

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, also responded to the figures, calling for support to prevent prisoners being left at risk. She said: “With the spread of coronavirus confirmed in almost every prison in the country, it is vital that as many people as possible are enabled to return to the community safely.

“Leaving people to fend for themselves on the streets during a pandemic puts them, and us, at risk. The government must ensure that people leaving prison have somewhere to live and the support they need to move away from crime and build a brighter future.”

The Government has been clear about their commitment to prevent a return to the days of mass rough sleeping that preceded the pandemic and their swift action to house people living on the streets in hotels.

But with lockdown measures slowly starting to lift and a June deadline for many of the mechanisms already in place to keep people off the streets, there have been warnings that the country is facing a homelessness cliff edge. The loudest warning has come from the District Councils’ Network, who stressed that 500,000 people in the UK face falling into homelessness as the economic devastation of Covid-19 continues to be felt.

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