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Prisoners reoffending after 'being forced to use food banks' says motion backed by Kent County Council

By Caitlin Webb, local democracy reporter

Former prisoners are being left to resort to food banks increasing the risk of them reoffending, according to a motion backed unamimously by Kent County Council.

A proposal put forward by Lib Dem members Cllr Trudy Dean and Cllr Ida Linfield has called for more action to help vulnerable people when they leave prison.

It was claimed a lack of support means many former inmates reoffend "simply in order to get warmth, food and comparative safety of a prison cell".

Former inmates are being forced to resort to food banks when they leave prison, say councillors
Former inmates are being forced to resort to food banks when they leave prison, say councillors

The motion, put forward at a full council meeting on Thursday, December 13, added Kent taxpayers have been left footing the bill when police deal with reoffenders.

In a rare move for an opposition motion, the plan was given unanimous approval across the council chamber.

Cllr Dean told those in the council chamber how leaving prison has "unwelcome side effects" such as losing their home, jobs or family support.

Around a quarter of ex-offenders are released from prison without a place to stay, which can increase the likelihood of reoffending.

She said: "We seem to have invented a system almost being designed to maximise reoffending.

Cllr Trudy Dean
Cllr Trudy Dean

"We know that former prisoners sometimes choose to reoffend simply in order to get warmth, food and comparative safety of a prison cell."

Ex-prisoners are entitled to a discharge grant of £46 until they can claim benefits such as universal credit or jobseekers' allowance, which can take up to five weeks.

A volunteer-led project at Kenward Trust is working with agencies to help offenders resettle within Kent and Medway.

Project manager of Reset, Stephen Wait, said while he agrees with the councillors' sentiments, his clients are often not given the support they need by local authorities.

He said: "When someone leaves prison, a volunteer or I collect them from the prison to take them to a council office, registering them as homeless.

"If they are lucky they will get temporary accommodation for three months but this is, in a way, prolonging the inevitable.

"Councils end up writing to them saying they are not eligible for permanent housing because they made themselves homeless by committing a crime."

While he believes this mentality does not allow offenders to rehabilitate, he can understand it.

"If things are not going the prisoner's way, they go back to what they are used to because they think no one wants them to do better..." - Stephen Wait, Reset

He said: "Until you work with these guys or see what happens it's only natural to think that.

"Before I did this job I may have had this view of 'why are we helping them when there are other homeless people around?'

"But when they are released from prison they already have a lot of restrictions from the probation service so this is almost another punishment and more should be done to stop them thinking they are better off in prison.

"If things are not going the prisoner's way, they go back to what they are used to because they think no one wants them to do better.

"These people just need a bit more support but it seems like society is not in a position to help them as there is not enough accessible housing for people who need it the most."

However the cabinet member for public health says KCC are working with the boroughs and districts to find shelter for those on the streets.

Cllr Graham Gibbens said: "It is very important that we look into how do we support prisoners in the immediate few weeks after they leave prison.

"Supporting prisoners at a very vulnerable time in their lives is something we should really be seen to be doing, especially at this time of good will."

The Ministry of Justice has announced a £22 million investment for "through-the-gate" services to help strengthen ties between all the relevant authorities.

A further £6 million is being spent on "pilot schemes bringing together prisons, local authorities, probation providers and others to plan, secure and sustain accommodation for offenders on their release.”

A spokesperson said: “Everyone leaving prison should have a safe and suitable home to go to on release, our reforms to probation are designed to encourage long-term rehabilitation and ultimately reduce offending."

KCC has agreed to discuss the problem during a select committee on housing.

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