A NEW scheme has been launched to help prisoners leaving jail lead crime-free lives.
Evidence has shown ex- offenders who struggle to find a job and somewhere to live are at high risk of reoffending.
Supporting Prisoners Advice Network Scotland will provide housing support and employment advice to more than 1,800 offenders from Grampian, Perth and Inverness prisons before and after their release over the next three years.
It is estimated that each case of reoffending that is prevented could save the public purse £32,370 per prisoner per year.
The £890,000 cost of the programme is being met by the Big Lottery Fund, while the project is supported by homelessness charity Shelter Scotland.
According to figures from Shelter, 74 per cent of ex- prisoners who have difficulties with housing and employment re-offend within a year of release, compared with 43 per cent of those without such problems.
The new programme will also offer support to prisoners’ families. Shelter Scotland director Graeme Brown said: “When in prison, people often lose their accommodation because of an inability to pay rent whilst serving their sentence or a family break-up.
“Many don’t have a job to go back to upon release, making finding and maintaining a home very difficult. This can add to an already chaotic lifestyle and lead to reoffending. Housing can play a vital role in breaking the cycle of reoffending, which has not only social but economic benefits. We look forward to helping prisoners and their families to find and keep a home, and avoid the tragedy of homelessness.”
The project is also supported by the Inverness Badenoch and Strathspey Citizens Advice Bureau (Cab) and the organisation Sacro (Safeguarding Communities – Reducing Offending).
Sacro service support manager Keith Hastie said: “Years of experience and consultation have informed this project.
“Sacro, Inverness Cab and Shelter Scotland have worked closely together on developing it, with each organisation advising on specialist areas of knowledge and senior staff liaising on the development and details of the model.”
Housing and welfare minister Margaret Burgess, who launched the scheme at Perth prison, said: “People are especially vulnerable on release from prison and it is essential that adequate housing advice is available to these individuals in order that homelessness can be prevented.
“The project will provide vital advice. Prisoners who have accommodation are given necessary advice to help them retain it or, if they are homeless, given advice about their legislative rights to accommodation.”
Big Lottery Fund Scotland director Jackie Killeen said: “Our mission is to support those in greatest need and projects like this one can help to break the cycle of reoffending, and enable former offenders and their families to build a new life.”