Housing and Reoffending: Supporting people who serve short-term sentences to secure and sustain stable accommodation on liberation

The research focused on the problems that people who serve short sentences in Scotland have finding and keeping stable housing and the services that can help improve housing outcomes. The findings describe a complex cycle of housing problems faced by people serving short sentences, their interlinked causes and impacts and the difficulties these problems pose in desistance from offending.


1. Reid-Howie Associates (RHA) was commissioned by the Scottish Government in late 2014 to carry out research into the housing experiences of people who serve short-term sentences in Scotland (i.e. sentences of four years or less). The research was overseen by a Research Advisory Group (RAG). The fieldwork was undertaken between February and June 2015.

Aims and research questions

2. The aim of the study was to provide evidence and understanding to inform the development of policy and practice for preventing homelessness, securing stable accommodation and improving the housing outcomes for those who serve short sentences in Scotland, within the overall goal of reducing reoffending. The focus of the work was upon the importance of, and barriers to securing stable accommodation on liberation.

3. The research set out to address the following research questions:

1. What is the extent and nature of issues and barriers that people who serve short sentences in Scotland perceive they have surrounding finding and keeping a home at trigger points before, during and after imprisonment? (Addressed in Chapters 2 and 4.)
2. What is the extent and nature of issues and barriers that people who serve short sentences in Scotland have surrounding finding and keeping a home at trigger points before, during and after imprisonment, as perceived by the SPS, criminal justice social workers, housing officers and others that may have insights into the difficulties they face? (Addressed in Chapters 2 and 4.)
3. What types of services (including but not exclusively supported housing for women) that focus on improving housing outcomes for people who serve short sentences in Scotland are delivered by local authorities as landlords and registered social landlords and the third sector? (Addressed in Chapter 3.)
4. What (if any) early indications are there of improved outcomes (related to housing, health, employment and potentially reoffending) that these services contribute to and how? (Addressed in Chapter 3.)
5. What impact do difficulties with housing have on other known difficulties faced by people who serve short sentences including getting and keeping employment and dealing with health issues including substance abuse? (Addressed in Chapter 2.)
6. What are the practice recommendations for preventing homelessness and securing stable accommodation that will enable the Scottish Prison Service and housing organisations to improve the housing outcomes for people who serve short sentences in Scotland? (Addressed in Chapter 5.)

The main methods

4. The scope and scale of the research, and the range of information sought in order to address these six research questions, required the use of a combination of methods. There were five key strands:

a) A Scotland-wide service and practice mapping exercise, by survey.

b) Interviews with 45 people serving, and 29 who had served short sentences.

c) Interviews with 146 key professionals.

d) A review of relevant literature and evidence.

e) Reporting and recommendations.

5. Details of each strand are provided below.

Mapping exercise and survey

6. The first stage involved a service and practice "mapping" exercise, to identify the services in Scotland involved in tackling housing issues faced by people who serve short sentences, and the pattern and nature of their provision. This was done by circulating a self-completion “SurveyMonkey” pro-forma to relevant organisations in Scotland. This was designed with input from the RAG, and sought information relating to:

  • The nature of the service provider.
  • The availability and type of service being delivered (in prison and / or in the community).
  • Monitoring and evaluation of the service.
  • Overall views of the provision available to address housing issues.
  • Identifying other service providers.

7. For the purposes of this study, housing-related services were taken to include any services which may enable (either directly or indirectly) service users to obtain or sustain housing.

8. Organisations for inclusion were identified on the basis of the contractor’s knowledge, input from the RAG and internet searching. Recipients included:

  • All local authorities (housing and homelessness; and criminal justice social work services).
  • Housing associations.
  • Relevant partnerships / projects and third sector services.

9. All recipients were asked to identify any other services they were aware of carrying out housing-related work with those in custody, or those who had recently been released. Any additional service providers identified in this process were then asked to complete a form.

10. A slightly different self-completion form was designed and circulated (by email and by post) to all prisons in Scotland with people serving short sentences.

11. Follow-up was carried out by e-mail and telephone, to ensure that as high a coverage as possible was achieved. Responses were received as follows:

Table 1. Numbers of respondents



Housing associations


Local authority housing / homelessness services


Other third sector services




Local authority criminal justice social work services


Third sector housing services




12. All of the prisons with people serving short sentences completed a pro-forma, as did almost all (28 of 32) of the local authority housing / homelessness services. Most of the key third sector services involved also submitted a pro-forma response. These contained a large amount of useful information, although not all respondents answered all of the questions.

13. This strand of the research helped: provide background information for the qualitative research; determine where, and how, relevant services were being provided; and identify where there may be innovative practice. More specifically, it contributed to addressing:

  • Question 3 (the types of services being delivered).
  • Question 4 (evidence of outcomes from service provision).
  • Question 6 (the identification of practice recommendations).

14. Details of the findings from the mapping study are presented in Annexe 3, alongside relevant findings from other strands of the research.

Interviews with people who served short sentences

15. The second strand of the work involved group discussions and face to face interviews with people who served short sentences (in custody and the community). These explored their views of the issues they faced in finding and keeping accommodation, and the housing-related services they received at various stages.

16. The views of people in custody were explored through eight groups (involving 45 individuals in total), each lasting 45 minutes to an hour. Virtually all of those who participated in these groups had served previous sentences. The groups were held in six different establishments, and included:

  • Three groups of adult men (in HMPs Barlinnie; Edinburgh; and Low Moss).
  • Two groups, both containing adult women and young women (in HMPYOI Cornton Vale).
  • One mixed group of adult men and women in a largely rural area (in HMPYOI Grampian).
  • One group of adult men with mental health problems (in HMP Barlinnie).
  • One group of young men (in HMYOI Polmont).

17. Discussions were also held with people in the community who had served short sentences (29 individuals). These involved a combination of groups and individual interviews. Six community organisations working with people who had been in custody (Action for Children; Catalyst; Sacro; Positive Prisons; 218 and Tomorrow’s Women Glasgow) helped make the arrangements.

18. All of the discussions explored participants’ views of:

  • Housing issues they had experienced at different stages (prior to imprisonment; on imprisonment; during a sentence and approaching release; and on, and following release).
  • The impact of housing issues at each stage.
  • The means of identification of the issues at each stage.
  • The nature of services provided at each stage and any reported improvements to their housing outcomes.
  • Overall views of housing-related services, suggested developments and improvements.

19. This strand of the research contributed to addressing:

  • Question 1 (perceptions of housing issues and barriers).
  • Question 3 (the types of services being delivered).
  • Question 4 (evidence of outcomes from service provision).
  • Question 5 (the impact of housing problems on other difficulties).
  • Question 6 (the identification of practice recommendations).

Interviews with key service providers

20. The third strand of the study involved interviews (or small group discussions) with key housing-related service providers working with those who serve short sentences in Scotland. These were generally face to face (with 144 people), although two were undertaken by telephone (making a total of 146).

21. The interview sample was agreed with the RAG, and involved participants from:

  • Prisons (all 14 establishments holding people serving short sentences) and the SPS Headquarters.
  • Housing Options Hubs (5).
  • Relevant third sector organisations and partnerships (19).
  • Housing associations and related organisations (7).
  • Criminal justice social work services (3).
  • CPPs (2).
  • CJAs (4).

22. The interviews covered broadly the same areas as those with people who served short sentences, with the questions amended, where required, to suit the particular specialisms / expertise of participants. These explored their views of:

  • Housing issues experienced by those who serve short sentences, at different stages.
  • The impact of housing issues on this group at each stage.
  • The means of identification of housing issues at each stage.
  • The services provided at each stage, and any gaps.
  • Overall issues (for example monitoring; issues for specific groups; links between housing problems and other issues; joint working; good practice examples; constraints for service providers; and suggested improvements).

23. When exploring the impact of housing issues (with individuals who served short sentences and service providers) participants’ views were sought about the impact of such issues on other factors (e.g. health, employment etc.), while recognising that any “improvement” could not be measured quantitatively, nor relative to a baseline.

24. This strand of the research contributed to addressing:

  • Question 2 (professionals’ perceptions of housing issues and barriers for those who serve short sentences).
  • Question 3 (the types of services being delivered).
  • Question 4 (evidence of outcomes from service provision).
  • Question 5 (the impact of housing problems on other difficulties).
  • Question 6 (the identification of practice recommendations).

Review of relevant literature and statistics

25. The research involved a brief review of key literature and evidence relating to housing and reoffending (including a brief overview of relevant legislative and contextual information). The overall aim of this strand of the research was to set the work in context, and to support the rationale for this by helping demonstrate (wherever possible) the nature and scale of the issues. This material is presented in full in Annexe 2.

26. The review also explored the availability of relevant statistical data in Scotland (e.g. on issues such as: the number of people who have served sentences presenting as homeless; the proportion of people in prison experiencing housing issues; SPS information etc.). An analysis of the gaps in, and issues with the data was undertaken. This material is included in Annexe 4.

27. The SPS was also asked to provide a “snapshot” of the home locations of those in custody, broken down by home local authority area. This is presented in Annexe 3, to demonstrate the spread of potential service users from different local authority areas in prisons across Scotland, and to illustrate the complexity of the spread of liberations to different areas.

28. This strand of the research helped contribute to the overall understanding of the housing issues and barriers for those serving short sentences. The material contributed to addressing all of the research questions.

Analysis, reporting and presentation of the data

29. The analysis of the survey information was carried out using an Access database (in the case of the prison data) and SurveyMonkey and Excel (in the case of the other data). The information was then summarised to give an indication of provision by area, establishment and type.

30. The information from the interviews and group discussions was stored in an Access database and analysed qualitatively. Key themes, sub-themes and detailed comments were identified by question and type of respondent, and summarised for each of the issues explored.

31. In presenting the qualitative findings, reference is made in the report to “individuals” to describe those serving, or who had served short sentences and “staff” to describe those working with them. This was seen to be the best means of describing and distinguishing between the two types of participants, in terms of the readability of the report and the need to avoid “labelling” those who served short sentences. The term “participants” is used to describe both individuals and staff. It is recognised that not all not all of the “staff” work directly with individuals.

32. Some distinctions are also made, where relevant, between different types of services (and staff). These have been grouped together in the presentation of the findings by the nature of their role, to best reflect their involvement in tackling housing issues. The groupings used are as follows:

  • Housing services / staff - this includes local authority housing services; housing associations; and third sector housing services.
  • Prison services / staff - this includes all SPS and private prison-based provision, but excludes TSOs (who are included with reintegration staff).
  • Reintegration services / staff – this includes local authority social work services; relevant third sector-led organisations and partnerships; PSPs; and TSOs.
  • Other specialist organisations / staff – this includes relevant third sector services which are not specific housing or reintegration services; CJAs and CPPs; and any other public or third sector services providing housing-related support.

33. It is recognised that the categories are not always mutually exclusive. Their purpose, however, is only to allow a description of how services work and interact, and to distinguish between the views of different staff groups.

34. As far as possible, in presenting the findings, examples have been given of the types of participants raising particular issues. It should be borne in mind, however, that many of these points were made by participants of a range of types (reflecting the number of discussions and range of staff and individuals involved). It would be impossible to detail all of those who made each point and retain readability.

35. Where particular types of participant have been mentioned, this should not be taken to imply that these were the only participants who made these points.

36. The findings have been summarised in the main report, which was kept brief, while reflecting the range and depth of material and ensuring that all points were based on clear evidence from the information gathered. More detailed findings are provided in Annexes 2-6.

37. All of the issues raised in the main report are supported by the data. The qualitative material in the report is presented using qualitative terms (for example many, several etc.). The broad overall themes (and the main sub-themes) give an indication of the issues raised most commonly.


Email: Julie Guy

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