7. Research Findings – The impact of housing problems
The housing problems of people who serve short sentences in Scotland described above were found to have a detrimental impact on their personal lives including a negative impact on mental health, drug and alcohol use, general wellbeing and employment opportunities. None of the impacts described here are specific to people serving short sentences, for this group, however, the research findings suggest that the impacts could have a detrimental effect on reintegration into a community.
This research found that mental health problems can be caused and exacerbated by the housing problems people serving short sentences can experience. In general participants reported suffering stress, anxiety and depression and specifically, that poor quality housing can lead to feeling hopeless, that loss of housing can cause frustration and that housing in which they felt was unsafe made them fearful.
Drug and alcohol abuse
An increase in the risk of drug and alcohol abuse was linked to housing problems by participants in this research. In the main this was linked to being allocated specific types of temporary housing (hostels, for example) where the availability of drugs could be commonplace and alcohol abuse extensive.
Overall wellbeing of this group was found to be affected by poor quality housing and by temporary housing.
Participants reported that in temporary accommodation there could be restrictions on having visitors, or it could lack facilities for this, most particularly in the case where individuals wanted to have their children to visit or stay overnight. This made it difficult for people to reintegrate into family or social life.
Another issue was that individuals in poor quality housing said they were too embarrassed to show family and friends where they were living and that this had a detrimental impact on self-esteem.
A key issue, especially prevalent for women and young people, was feeling unsafe in housing, whether this was temporary or permanent. This was related to housing being physically insecure (poor quality doors and windows and locks) or to being in an area where there were high levels of anti-social behaviour and criminality including illegal drug activity.
In general all of the other impacts described above were seen to create barriers to finding and sustaining employment and securing employment was seen as key to reintegration. Three specific issues were also reported (i) difficulties applying for work without a permanent address, (ii) difficulties looking clean and tidy for interviews or work without the facilities to enable this (iii) that housing problems could be a distraction or preoccupation which made it difficult to engage in looking for work.
Interconnections and desistance
The research found that, as housing problems were rarely found in isolation, neither were the impacts, rather they were interlinked and could compound and exacerbate each other and be circular. So, for example, mental health problems could create barriers to employment, difficulties getting a job could compound mental health problems. Another example is that a lack of feeling safe could exacerbate drug and alcohol abuse which could then in-turn make people less safe.
Health problems, low self-esteem, safety issues, drug and alcohol abuse and difficulties finding employment were all found to act as a barrier to reintegration and in that way to make desistance more difficult. This sets up what participants described as a ‘vicious circle’ of a prison sentence for offending causing or exacerbating housing problems, the impacts of the problems making reintegration and desistance difficult, leading potentially to reoffending and a return to prison.
As such it is clear that individuals’ efforts to desist would be helped if they were liberated to safe, secure housing, with essentials (furniture, clothes), funds to buy food, and if they had the skills to sustain a tenancy and live independently (or support to achieve this).
Email: Julie Guy