A lack of help for ex-prisoners when they are released back into society could see them choose to re-offend rather than sleep rough, West Sussex County Council has been warned.
Around 100 violent and sex offenders are released into the county each year but, due to budget cuts, from September there will be no money to help them get back on their feet.
Members of the council’s health and adult social care select committee (HASC) were told earlier this month there were concerns that the lack of help would pose a risk not only to the ex-prisoners but to the wider community.
Natalie Brahma-Pearl, chief executive officer at Crawley Borough Council, has been leading a task and finish group to look into the problem.
She told the meeting: “The system behind probation when prisoners leave the system is that they do have some level of support and they are supposed to get support before they’re released.
“But it’s these particular offenders that are of critical concern to us because of the risk that they pose to themselves – these are very vulnerable people in their own right – but also potentially the risk they can pose to the wider community.
“They do need a lot more surveillance and knowing where they are, and care and support because some of them may have been in that situation for a number of years and then they’re released into society.”
Lt Cdr Noel Atkins (Con, Durrington & Salvington) said: “There’s no place for them to go at the moment, so the risk is that, rather than be homeless and sleep on the streets, they will re-offend so they can go back to prison.”
Ms Brahma-Pearl said there were currently a number of homes across the county where the ex-offenders were housed – but they could be lost if there was no money to pay the rent.
She added: “We’re trying to work on a solution so we don’t get to the point where notice is given to those properties and we lose that facility for all of West Sussex.”
In 2018/19, £283,000 was put towards multi-agency public protection arrangement (MAPPA) houses in West Sussex to help monitor and manage the men and women who were being released.
On top of that, £240,000 was spent on Directions, a homeless offenders service, which has now closed.
Now £4m has been cut from the housing related support budget and, with offender services not seen as a funding priority by the council, there will not be a penny for them in the budget of 2020/21.
With time running out, Ms Brahma-Pearl said she would be writing to the Ministry of Justice, adding: “The situation we are in is not unique, and to a degree requires national attention.”
Dr Kate O’Kelly (Lib Dem, Midhurst) described the situation as ‘incredibly worrying’ and asked if the tim scale could be extended until the council heard back from the MoJ.