Most prisoners I know who have been released have had to spend at least some time in what used to be known as probation hostels or, even more formerly, halfway houses – now generally called “approved premises”. However, it seems that the same is not always the case when it comes to female prisoners released from HMP Bronzefield.
A recent report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons following their inspection of the prison has revealed that some prisoners were being released with no resettlement plan whatsoever, with the exception of being issued with tents and sleeping bags!
This raises a question which I hadn’t thought about before. The Ministry of Justice has adopted radically different approaches to the imprisonment of men compared to women for many years now, ranging from the way prisoners are categorised to the way they are treated on a day to day basis. Indeed, I am currently in communication with the National Offender Management Service in an effort to convince them to overturn their discriminatory policy of refusing to grant male prisoners the same automatic right as female prisoners to wear their own clothes. The reasoning they give for their differing approach to the sexes is that the experiences of imprisonment are different for men and women. Putting aside my counter argument that the same can be said of differing experiences according to race, religion, disability, or any other irrelevant characteristic, one thing which is universal to all prisoners is that they are less likely to reoffend if they have a stable life when they are released.
The cost of keeping each prisoner in jail extends to tens of thousands every year, and this cost is far higher when it comes to female prisoners in particular, but the Ministry now sees fit to release some of those female prisoners with only a tent and a sleeping bag. It is almost inevitable that many such women will go on to reoffend, if only to get enough money together to get off the streets, returning them to prison at extortionate cost to the taxpayer. This when it would make far more financial sense to simply pay for the first couple of month’s rent in a bedsit.
It might be unpalatable to the media, but if the two alternatives of either releasing women with just a tent, to commit further crimes and return to prison at high cost, or releasing them with a place to go to, I think the only rational choice is pretty obvious.