Housing needs of women from minority ethnic groups leaving HMP Holloway

Roger Grimshaw, with Samantha Harding, Madeline Watkins and Sylwia Szydlowska
Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The research tried to find out what the needs were and how best St Mungo’s could link women to services and prevent them from becoming homeless.  It found that:

Housing needs are very prevalent among women in Holloway prison.
Finding accommodation for women leaving prison is very challenging. There are cuts in available accommodation which varies across London Boroughs. Residence rules disqualify women from access to local accommodation unless they have a local connection.
Women have multiple needs (particularly drugs, education and employment) and the worker tries to provide support to them after leaving prison, linking them with other services or making referrals.

Women interviewed placed a lot of importance on their family needs, such as being reunited with their children or finding accommodation where they could look after newborns. Women valued a respectful, supportive and diligent service that advocated for them. They spoke about how their own cooperation with the worker could help to secure good outcomes.

Despite the efforts of the project, the number in temporary housing after leaving prison was higher than in their previous situation. Support to obtain welfare benefits was the most frequent type of support given, followed by family support and support in relation to substance misuse.

About a quarter of the former users returned to custody; women with a previous custodial episode were more likely to return.

Given the multiple needs of many women facing a very bleak housing environment, organisations like St Mungo’s face several challenges:

  • How courts can be persuaded to avoid recycling women through prison, exposing their families  repeatedly to housing need.
  • How to access large-scale funding for suitable and stable provision which the public sector will no longer fund.
  • How to develop partnership work to support women with multiple needs.

Roger Grimshaw, author of the report, said:

‘By putting their housing at risk the courts victimise families of women in prison. No wonder women appreciate advocacy and support to keep them afloat at a time of service cuts and a housing crisis for people on lower incomes.’