HMP Bronzefield: Women given tents instead of accommodation when leaving London prison, inspection reveals

Two women leaving HMP Bronzefield were given tents while sleeping bags had also been handed out amid a shortage in available housing

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The Independent Online

The revelation that women leaving a west London prison were given tents instead of housing has been described as "staggering" by Government ministers and raised alarm among housing charity groups.

A prison watchdog revealed sleeping bags had also been handed out to a number of ex-offenders from HMP Bronzefield amid a shortage of available housing.

Shadow Prisons Minister Jo Stevens said in response to the report: "It is absolutely staggering that women seem to have been released from prison with nothing more than a tent or a sleeping bag.

”This is astonishing and a far cry from the safe and secure accommodation needed to assist them in the rehabilitation process.“

Housing charity Women in Prison said the report, which was undertaken following an unannounced inspection, was "concerning" but "sadly not surprising" in the current housing climate. 

A spokesperson from Women in Prison said: “The fact that Bronzefield is resorting to issuing tents to women leaving prison with nowhere to live does not highlight a problem evident within that one prison. 

“Instead it is a reflection of how chronic the housing crisis has become and it urgently must bring awareness to the staggering high numbers of women that are leaving prison homeless across the women’s estate and the devastating impact this then has on those women and our communities."

The number of women who left Bronzefield prison with settled accommodation in place had dropped from 95.5 per cent in 2014 to just 83.7 per cent in 2015, according to the report from HM Inspectorate of Prisons.

It was also noted that in the six-month period leading up to the inspection, 103 women had been released with no fixed address to go to.

The Housing for Women association also said the report was “concerning”. 

A spokesperson said: “We believe that preparation for release should start as early as possible before release in order to adequately plan and effectively link women into support networks in their ‘home‘ community including; making links with family and friends and clearly identifying accommodation options for them, linking them into additional support services as appropriate.

"Without this planned approach and as widely documented – women are at significant risk of breaching their licences and/or reoffending.”

HMP Bronzefield blamed the lack of social housing available in the south east as a contributory factor, and local authority housing departments’ downgrading of ex-offenders to “low priority” cases. 

“The prison had issued tents to two women who were released without anywhere to go to and the chaplaincy often gave out sleeping bags,” it said.

“The community chaplain, however, was preparing a network of contacts in faith communities so that women could be placed in accommodation with them and receive support on release.”

Martin Lomas, HM Deputy Chief Inspector of Prisons, who signed off the report, said: “HMP Bronzefield was a very good and improved prison… The general environment was good and care was taken to keep the prison decent."

According to the report, many of the inmates at Bronzefield may be seen as vulnerable. Around one third of the women reported having a disability and 44 per cent said they felt depressed or suicidal.  

The figures raise concern over the amount of support available to ex-offenders undergoing rehabilitation. 

HMP Bronzefield is a high-security prison for restricted status women. It holds up to 527 inmates at any one time, between the ages of 18 and 70. 

The prison's director, Charlotte Pattison-Rideout, said: ”We work with local authorities and other organisations to ensure as many women as possible have suitable accommodation upon release from HMP Bronzefield, but it's an area where there's a shortfall that affects the whole of the prison estate.

“There has been a change in process at the local authority following the Localism Act which has been a factor in more women, unfortunately, leaving without immediate housing.

”We are building links with the local community rehabilitation company who are now responsible for housing to ensure more women have support and accommodation upon release.“

The Shadow Prisons Minister said: “The improvement noted in this report is welcome but there remain very serious questions to be answered.