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Rebecca Dillon

Open letter to David Cameron PM about Re-Unite

Ashley Horsey open letter to David Cameron PM about Re-Unite:

Dear Prime Minister,

I had the privilege of attending your speech on the criminal justice system today hosted by the Centre for Social Justice.  I was struck by your repeated focus on rehabilitation and the need to identify workable pathways to avoid the catastrophically high re-offending rate from those currently emerging from the criminal justice system.  I wanted to tell you about, and to seek support from your Government, for one successful pathway developed in part by Commonweal Housing – Re-Unite – a project meeting the housing and support needs of mothers leaving prison and their families.

Commonweal Housing is an action research charity that develops and tests pilot projects seeking to demonstrate successful and replicable solutions to some of the systemic nonsense and catch 22 absurdities that too often exist in our society.

In the case of Re-Unite, it tackles a cruel catch 22 situation; If a mother leaving prison does not have custody of her children when she applies to her local authority as homeless or when seeking rent support through the local housing allowance system she is eligible for nothing larger than a room in a shared house or at best one-bedroom property. However, when she has only a one-bedroom property, she is denied custody of her children.

Why is Re-Unite important?  Over 17,000 children in England and Wales are separated from their mother every year by imprisonment [1] and only 9% will be cared for by their father in their mothers’ absence [2]. The rest are in the care of social services or family and friends.  96% of children leave the previous family home if their mother is imprisoned leading to huge disruption for many children often requiring changes of school and break up of other social support networks.  Where more formal care arrangements are required, there is a huge additional cost to the public purse.

Currently there are over 4,000 women in prisons in England [3]. Without support, 51% of these women will reoffend within a year of release [4].

Re-Unite is a successful, evaluated programme designed to help meet two of the key drivers that help women avoid reoffending – suitable accommodation and family responsibility.  The model was developed to help meet the housing and support needs of mothers who would be homeless upon release from prison, so that they can be reunited with their children.

Re-Unite is proven to succeed in reducing rates of re-offending – just 6.8% experienced by those that have been through the project to date.  Key to Re-Unite is working with the family as a whole and supporting the children as much as the women – helping to establish stable family units, more positive role models, reinforcing school attendance and attainment and seek to break intergenerational cycles of criminal activity.

Re-Unite has been developed initially by Commonweal Housing and Housing for Women, a housing association with early input from and the charity Women In Prison.  The model has been positively evaluated by Professor Loraine Gelsthorpe at the Institute of Criminology, Cambridge University.  An independent cost-benefit analysis has shown that in one year, Re-Unite produces savings of at least £2.22 for every pound invested.

Commonweal is already sharing our learning from the pilot project and assisting other organisations across the country to replicate the Re-Unite model – seeking to ensure quality control and maximisation of outcomes from the women and their children.

Whilst I appreciate your desire to move away from central dictat and targets, we are seeking a further boost to our efforts through Government Ministers and officials highlighting the needs of this specific group – mothers leaving prison – ensuring they are identified at an early stage within the prison system and encouraging those with local policy and delivery responsibility to explore the positive outcomes being demonstrated by Re-Unite.

Our call is that NOMS and Regional Probation Trust commissioners should be requiring those working with women in or at risk of involvement with the criminal justice system to be deliveringRe-Unite meeting the needs of this important group of female offenders – mothers.

I would welcome the chance to discuss Re-Unite and some of the other criminal justice related projects Commonweal are developing with you, your Ministerial colleagues or officials.


Ashley Horsey

Chief Executive

[1] Howard League for Penal Reform (2011) Voice of a Child

[2] Baroness Corston (2007) A Review of women with particular vulnerabilities in the criminal justice system.

[3] MOJ (2012) Population and Capacity briefing for Friday 22 June 2012

[4] MOJ (2011) Table A5(F) and A9(F) Adult reconvictions: results from the 2009 cohort

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