A charity has warned that reoffending rates could rise as its project, which helped thousands of ex-prisoners escape a life of crime, is due to close its doors after a funding cut.
Change Grow Live (CGL) says six homes it has run across southern England for 42 years will shut on Friday after its funding was slashed earlier this year.
One former service user told Channel 4 News: “If I was coming out of prison now I would fear for my life.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We have already found alternative accommodation for almost every offender at CGL and the Government is doing more than ever to make sure people leaving prison do not end up on the streets.”
More than two-thirds of men who have come through the CGL project have gone on to live independently, while a third were recalled to prison – often as a result of CGL staff monitoring their behaviour.
CGL estimates that a year in their care costs the state £18,344, while a year in prison is £44,000.
One ex-prisoner, who we are not naming to protect his identity, said: “They need these special units for certain prisoners and if you put a mental health person in a hostel where there are 25 or 28 druggies or alcoholics or violent people, they’re gonna struggle. That’s the way it works.”
Asked if CGL saved his life, he added: “Yes. I’ll be honest I’ve had suicide attempts in my life before.”
CGL had been funded by West Sussex County Council since 2003 but budget cuts meant they could no longer afford to continue and for the last four months CGL has funded the project itself.
The CGL project will be replaced by a patchwork of different services including offering prison leavers 84 nights accommodation before they have to find their own place.
Georgina Davies, who runs the project, believes the Ministry of Justice’s announcement that it would be funding more short-term accommodation for ex-prisoners is a “quick fix” that “looks good on paper”.
But cutting services like CGL’s, which offers longer term accommodation, will lead to a “lot of people presenting as street homeless or going back to custody”, she added.
She said CGL staff keep a close eye on prisoners and feed back to the probation service and police if they notice “subtle changes in someone’s behaviour that might indicate an increase in risk”.
Asked how the ex-prisoners will cope without CGL, Ms Davies said: “I just think they’ll flounder and they’ll really struggle. We have helped hundreds if not thousands of men.”
She added: “There’s no getting away from the fact that the service users we support have committed really serious offences that will have lifelong impacts to the victims and their families.
“But if we don’t start looking at them as human beings and people and wanting the best for them, and supporting them to make better choices and to live a good fulfilled life, then they’re just going to go on to reoffend and create more victims for the future.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “All but two of the offenders housed in CGL’s supported accommodation in West Sussex have been found alternatives by the Probation Service and work is ongoing for the two remaining who have very complex needs.”
They added: “The Probation Service and its partners are housing 3,000 prison leavers who would otherwise have become homeless this year alone, and the 2,500 extra probation officers we are recruiting will give offenders more dedicated support to help them find homes.”
Producer: Wil Davies.
Words: Calum Fraser.