No fixed abode: the implications for homeless people in the criminal justice system

Document type
Cooper, Vickie
Howard League for Penal Reform
Date of publication
20 December 2013
Resettlement, Offenders, Criminal Justice Services, Housing and Homelessness
Social welfare
Material type

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No fixed abode (NFA) is the formal term used to identify homeless prisoners. In 2012 the Ministry of Justice found that 15 per cent of people in prison were homeless prior to custody, which represents nearly 13,000 people. A third of people leaving prison say they have nowhere to go. Including those on remand, this could represent up to 50,000 people annually. The large portion of people in prison with no permanent accommodation prior to and post imprisonment, begs the question: where do homeless people in the criminal justice system go when they are not detained in custody?

Temporary hostel accommodation plays a significant part in meeting the housing and rehabilitation needs of people in the criminal justice system who have no fixed abode. Hostels frequently accommodate people who are either awaiting trial or have been recently released from prison. Such accommodation is used to ‘contain’, ‘rehabilitate’, ‘resettle’ and ‘rehouse’ people in the criminal justice system experiencing homelessness, and includes homeless hostels, probation hostels, female refuges and drug rehabilitation hostels.

Hostels can be regarded as part of the semi-penal network of punishment because they frequently accommodate marginalised and socially excluded people who repeatedly come into contact with the criminal justice system. ‘Semi-penal institutions’ describes hostel environments that often subject homeless people to regulatory activities that monitor their behavioural conduct, not too dissimilar to the penal environment

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