What do you associate with the term ‘Community Justice’? Prison cells, police cars, ASBOs, victims, court rooms? You’re not alone, so do most people. So did I, until recently.

Then I spent some time with Shelter Scotland’s Supporting Prisoners; Advice Service (SPAN) talking to the people that they help. It became apparent that our understanding of Community Justice needs to be a lot broader. If people are to be effectively supported to avoid reoffending when they leave prison, we need to move away from our picture of electronic tags and prison gates.

The prisoners I spoke to had a strong message about what would reduce their chance of reoffending. What they need is a home. A stable base to call their own. A decent pad close to people who positively influence on them. One man who was serving a long-term sentence told me, “People who haven’t got a house and are isolated when they leave, they say, ‘I’ll do a crime and be back next week’”.

It’s worrying, then, that 49% Scottish prisoners lose their accommodation and about 30% of people leave prison without knowing where they’re going to live. The negative cycle of prison-homelessness-prison has been well evidenced, and yet the experience of SPAN shows us that preventing homelessness for prisoners is absolutely achievable.

When the Community Justice (Scotland) Bill started being drafted last year it was clear that here was an excellent opportunity for action. With justice governance in Scotland having a major shake-up, we set about ensuring housing was understood as a vital element of the journey away from offending.

A research report, parliamentary event, numerous meetings, articles, Committee sessions and consultation responses later (did I mention the meetings…?), today we are celebrating! Last week the Holyrood Parliament passed Stage 3 of the Community Justice (Scotland) Bill with Housing right there at the very heart of it.

In the new model of Community Justice, strategies, outcomes measures and local plans will have to consider how to support the wider needs of people with convictions. We are proud to say that Housing is at the top of the list.

Of course, our job doesn’t stop here – the gap between legislation and practice can be vast – but we are confident that this gives a strong foundation for future work towards ensuring people leaving prison have a home to go to.

Find our briefings for the Bill at Stage 1, Stage 2 and Stage 3, and the Preventing Homelessness and Reducing Reoffending report on our website.

For more information please contact Emma Dore, Senior Policy Officer emma_dore@shelter.org.uk