My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to rise in the gap to sing from the same hymn sheet and welcome this Bill. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on his inspirational work and commitment to these matters. We need an urgent change in practice for those who leave prison. I know that my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, who is not able to be here today but leads for the Church of England on prisons, also welcomes this Bill.
Others have already referred to the impact of releasing people from prison on a Friday, particularly in relation to access to services, including housing and healthcare. This affects men and women leaving prison, but for women it can be acutely dangerous, due to particular risks they face. A report published in 2020, Safe Homes for Women Leaving Prison, found that late releases, and releases on a Friday, are known to jeopardise a woman’s chances of securing accommodation. Due to the configuration of the prison estate, women are often imprisoned far from home, leading to isolation and presenting further challenges to securing housing. Risks from perpetrators of domestic abuse are very real for prison leavers, particularly women. A recent Independent Monitoring Board report on HMP Bronzefield found that 65% of women face homelessness on release. I join others in hoping that changing the practice of releasing prison leavers on a Friday will go a long way to helping address this.
Finally, I shall touch on how this fits into the wider picture of resettlement and reintegration into society. We know that links to community and home help prevent reoffending, and we have many examples of good practice within the faith-based sector. The Welcome Directory is an organisation that signposts prison leavers to churches and worshipping communities of other faiths, aiming to “unlock the second prison” of the community. Prison chaplains do valuable work through the gate with external organisations to transition those in prison back into the community. Under the new probation model, the Church of England has been working at a national and regional level with the probation service to link up with faith communities, which do so much good in their localities.
In conclusion, I welcome this Bill and consider that it will make a significant change to the chances of prison leavers resettling well into communities and reducing the chances of recidivism.