Two thirds of inmates leaving Europe’s largest women’s prison are being released into homelessness – and many are reluctant to leave.
An HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) report found “far too many” inmates at HMP Bronzefield in Ashford, Surrey – the largest women’s prison in the UK – left without safe and sustainable accommodation available for at least 12 weeks.
Inspectors discovered that many women said they would prefer to stay inside rather than face the “uncertainties of freedom”. One inmate even slept in the prison’s gatehouse for two nights because she had nowhere to go.
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The report concluded finding suitable accommodation alongside support for women with complex needs must be a priority for authorities and probation services and warned staffing cuts in domestic abuse support and the prison’s resettlement team exacerbated the issue.
Charlie Taylor, HMIP’s chief inspector of prisons, said: “Without stable, safe accommodation many women are liable to have mental health relapses, return to substance misuse and become involved in crime on release, creating more victims and, at great cost to the taxpayer, repeating the cycle and undoing the good work of the prison.”
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Overall, inspectors described the prison as “well run” and praised encouraging findings in education. The report found access to the prison’s library was “good” and the provision was “excellent” with a survey of prisoners revealing more prisoners had a positive view of the library than other prisons.