The nightmare of incarceration for a crime you did not commit is perhaps the most visceral sign of injustice in our society. For many, there is the perception that as the case is quashed the injustice ends. But as a report we release this week identifies, that is not always the case.
Over at Commonweal Housing our mission is to provide Housing Solutions to Social Injustices. We commissioned academics from the London School of Economics to look in to the housing options for victims of Miscarriages of Justice who have been incarcerated. Our report should make us all stop and think about the support available to those who, through no fault of their own need to re-integrate back into society.
Almost unbelievably, if you are released from prison having had your conviction quashed, you are entitled to less support than if you have served your time having committed a crime. The sole offer of statutory help is provided by the Miscarriages of Justice Support Service from the Royal Courts of Justice Citizens Advice Bureau based in the Royal Courts of Justice (MJSS), while the CAB acts as an advocate it has no control over service delivery in the areas desperately required by these victims.
Housing is one area where the injustice for miscarriage victims can be starkest. When convictions are quashed, the wrongly convicted person is often released without the careful preparation and aftercare afforded to other prisoners. Quite often victims can be released with £50 release grant in their pocket. If the victim requires social housing, the prospects are bleak. Many will fail local authority homeless teams “local connection” test owing to their imprisonment or some may be deemed to have caused their own homelessness (an odd notion when their imprisonment is due to a now acknowledged error by the State) or reject the one offer they receive from the local authority because of particular issues relating to their circumstances.
As a result many miscarriage of justice victims can be left in inappropriate housing, without assistance to assimilate back into the community and a housing situation which can actively prevent it or experiencing frequent moves in the private sector and persistently having to rebuild networks.
Our report identifies a series of measures which could put this injustice right. Primarily we call on central government to issue new guidance to local authorities so that the vulnerability of victims of miscarriages of justice is formally recognised by local housing options teams.
But we also make the case for a wider cultural shift from a variety of stakeholders. Housing support and advocacy services also need to up their game to become more familiar with miscarriage of justice cases. We ask various support services to begin to produce training and guidance material to local advisors to ensure front line staff are as well equipped as possible to respond to victims’ needs.
The constant thread through our report is the lack of statutory services available to victims. Our final recommendation in the report is to establish a fund administered through the RCJCAB to provide small amounts of subsidy where it is needed to ensure successful re-housing and re-integration into the community. Commonweal is pledging £20,000 in matched funding to establish the fund.
Support for the recommendations of the report is strong with groups such as The Chartered Institute of Housing supporting us.
Over 400 individuals have had their innocence established since the Criminal Cases Review Commission began work in 1997. With the government making it harder for victims of miscarriage of justice victims to access compensation, housing options for those wrongly convicted of crimes they did not commit is not going to go away. With our report, we can take a step on the road to righting the wrong when it comes to housing.
Blog submitted by Jacob Quagliozzi, External Affairs and Communications Coordinator, Commonweal Housing Ltd