Bid to improve housing situation for young offenders leaving custody

Homelessness among young offenders leaving custody is finally
being tackled.

The Youth Justice Board has published a strategy paper looking
to phase out placing young offenders in B&Bs by 2010, and to
end the practice of keeping young offenders in custody
unnecessarily within the next three years.

Last year, 15 per cent of young offenders coming out of custody
were left homeless after their local authorities failed to house
them. Research by the Audit Commission found that 9,000 young
offenders were badly housed while an estimated one in 10 of
under-18s in custody are only there because of a lack of suitable

In the past month, two councils have been brought to task for
their failure to provide adequate housing to young offenders in
their care by the Howard League for Penal Reform. The charity won a
landmark High Court victory in one case, which could pave the way
for further challenges to councils reneging on their duty of care
for children.

Chris Callender, assistant director of the league, says that
provision of housing in 10 other cases the charity is handling is
vague or non-existent.

“Many children do not know, even on the day of their release,
where they will be spending their first night,” says Callender.
“Others may be placed in inappropriate housing which puts them at
risk and increases the likelihood of reoffending. This is a
long-neglected area upon which a light is only just being

Councils are “not complying with the law”, he says, citing the
case of a 16 year old in the care of a council in the South East
due to be released from a secure training unit, who still does not
know what accommodation arrangements have been made for her. The
charity has just issued legal proceedings against the council
seeking to force them to carry out a framework assessment.

A reluctance to house young offenders, who are often seen as
troublesome tenants, is one of the problems, according to Chris
Holmes, the former director of Shelter who now sits on the Youth
Justice Board.

“There are assumptions about antisocial behaviour, and there is
often a reluctance to provide accommodation, even when the need is
recognised,” he says.

“The background to this is that there has been a lack of
co-ordination between housing, social services and other

Housing providers are loath to accept referrals unless support
packages are attached but with funding for housing-related support
for the vulnerable in short supply, young offenders are often a low

Youth offending teams (Yots) are able to address many of the
support needs of young offenders but there are still “significant
gaps in provision,” with 16 and 17 year olds among the most
vulnerable of young offenders.

The YJB has called for housing authorities to sit on Yot
management boards, which currently only occurs in some

The impact that good, stable accommodation can have on
reoffending rates is well established. In a 2002 report, the Social
Exclusion Unit found good housing can reduce reoffending by up to
20 per cent.

That point was emphasised by Julian Corner, chief executive of
Revolving Doors, a charity that deals primarily with adult
offenders. He says 55 per cent of the charity’s clients believe
poor, or no housing, is the key factor in explaining why they
became repeat offenders.

Corner welcomes the YJB paper, but emphasises that “strong
leadership” is needed to co-ordinate the agencies involved in the
care of young offenders.

“Young people in poor accommodation are being set up for years
of committing crime because they are not being properly supported
into independence,” he says.

“This is a transitional point, where young people are either
going to leave offending behind them, or think that the world is
against them and that they might as well do what they want.”

The YJB paper is out for consultation. Go to


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