Groundbreaking prisons project holds first open day
PRISONERS and their families are receiving expert advice aimed at helping them deal with housing problems – including homelessness – which can arise when someone is given a custodial sentence.
Problems with housing and homelessness are known to increase the potential for repeat offending among ex-prisoners (1).
The Shelter Scotland Prisons Advice Project works with prisoners and their families to deal with housing problems, prevent homelessness and thereby reduce the chances of repeat offending. This is proven to bring positive benefits not just to the prisoners, but their families and the wider community as well.
Martin Wilkie-McFarlane, manager of Shelter Scotland’s Prisons Advice Project, said:
“When a prisoner or ex-prisoner becomes homeless this can have an impact on the housing situation of their family too. Our project is here to provide high quality, comprehensive housing advice and advocacy on a range of housing issues.
“The project has already helped prevent homelessness or helped find accommodation for 89 per cent of the 532 clients who came to us because they faced losing their home. On the back of this success we are holding our first open advice day for prisoners and families in Perth tomorrow (Wednesday 2nd February).”
Martin Wilkie-McFarlane explained more about the project: “We help prisoners maintain their accommodation through their prison sentence, help them responsibly give up their accommodation where appropriate and help them access housing and support on release from prison.
“We know that problems with housing are one of the factors that can lead to ex-prisoners reoffending. That’s why ultimately reducing homelessness in the prisoner and ex-prisoner population benefits the individual, their family and the wider community too.”
Anonymous case study
This case study tells the story of Neil and how Shelter Scotland helped prevent a family-break up and homelessness for Neil and his daughter.
Neil* advised Shelter Scotland he had received a 12-month custodial sentence reduced to nine months. He was aware that the length of this sentence ended his housing benefit entitlement on his conviction date.
Neil did not want to lose or terminate his tenancy as his 15 year-old daughter, Marie, lives with him on a permanent basis. At that time his older daughter, Jane, was looking after Marie in his tenancy but Jane was in the process of leaving home and would not be able to continue as sole tenant.
Neil asked Shelter Scotland to contact the his local authority to see if they would be willing to allow Marie to become a joint tenant when she turns 16 in a few weeks’ time. However, he was also aware that he would have a few months rent arrears by then so this could be a problem.
Through joint working between the council, housing, social work and Shelter Scotland, homelessness was prevented in this case. Negotiation with the council meant an award of Housing Benefit for Neil’s daughter, a qualifying occupier not yet 16 years-old. This meant family break-up and homelessness was avoided and that rent arrears did not accrue further. Neil also has a home to return to upon liberation.
*Names changed to protect client’s identity
Notes to Editors:
1. It is widely recognised that the successful resettlement of an offender within the community is probably the best guarantee against reoffending. Effective preparation for release is therefore a good investment and helps people avoid returning to prison because they have nowhere else to live or because an unsettled lifestyle leads to reoffending. This is recognised in the National Strategy where one of the Outcomes for Offenders is “to access and sustain suitable accommodation”
 Reducing Reoffending: The National Strategy for the Management of Offenders is available at the Scottish Government’s website at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/121591/0029340.pdf.
2. Shelter Scotland’s Prison’s Advice Project is active in prisons in Perth, Inverness and Aberdeen with the aim of reducing homelessness amongst the prisoner and ex-prisoner population.
3. Shelter Scotland, the housing and homelessness charity. Shelter Scotland believes that everyone should have a home. We help people find and keep a home. We campaign for decent housing for all.
4. Spokespeople are available for interview, telephone the media office on 0844 515 2442. An ISDN line number is available for broadcast interviews.
5. For more information about Shelter Scotland visit www.shelter.org.uk
6. Follow Shelter Scotland on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/shelterinscotland
Twitter – http://twitter.com/shelterscotland
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Contact: Neil Baldwin, Nicola Baxter
Phone: 0844 515 2442