Freeing prisoners 70 days early could 'significantly increase' homelessness risk, charity fears

Two people sleeping rough on Newcastle's Quayside
Two people sleeping rough on Newcastle's Quayside -Credit:Newcastle Chronicle

A move to free prisoners 70 days early in a bid to ease overcrowding in jails risks leaving more people homeless on the streets of Tyneside, a leading charity has warned.

The Government’s scheme to allow some offenders out of prison up to 18 days early was increased to 60 days in March and is now set to rise again to 70 days on May 23. That has sparked criticism this week, with Labour having pressed Rishi Sunak for assurances that serious offenders would not be freed early.

But Gateshead-based Changing Lives has now also warned that the policy puts prisoners at “significantly” greater risk of becoming homeless – and could put pressure on “overstressed” local support services. Its CEO, Stephen Bell, said: “Over the past seven months we have seen the early release scheme for males increase from 18 days, to 60 and now soon to be 70 days. However, data on the impact on released prisoners' housing situations is currently unavailable.

“This lack of information is concerning, as early release without secure housing can significantly increase the risk of homelessness. Without data on how many released prisoners become street homeless, it's difficult to assess the potential consequences of extending the scheme further.

“Early release can be a positive step, but it must be coupled with adequate support systems to prevent individuals from falling into homelessness upon release. This includes access to temporary accommodation and robust resettlement programs. We also fear this potential rise in homelessness among released prisoners could particularly strain local support services such as the already overstressed probation services both on a local and national level.”

Changing Lives was among the accommodation providers who had branded Newcastle City Council plans to cut the city’s homelessness support budget “inhumane”, before those proposals were put on hold earlier this year. The charity had warned that demand for beds was higher than ever and claimed that cutting the number available would leave people to die on the street.

Newcastle City Council indicated on Friday that it had not yet seen an increase in the city’s homeless population as a result of the changes to the early release scheme so far but would be monitoring the situation. The Ministry of Justice was also contacted for a response.

Concerns were also raised earlier this week by a prisons watchdog, with a report claiming that dangerous criminals including a domestic abuser who posed a risk to children were freed early under the scheme. Mr Sunak said at Prime Minister’s Questions this week that “no-one should be put on this scheme if they are a threat to the public”.

He added: “And let me be crystal clear, it does not apply to anyone serving a life sentence, anyone convicted of a serious violent offence, anyone convicted of terrorism, anyone convicted of a sex offence and, crucially, in contrast to the system Labour put in place, governors in the prison service have an absolute lock so that no-one is put on the scheme who shouldn’t be.”