Nick Hardwick, former chief inspector of prisons, said the advice was mistaken: “A prisoner leaving prison homeless is a failure, and providing advice about what someone should do in that situation does not mean a box can be ticked in any accommodation process.
“In any case, prisons are not the best people to provide advice of this kind. If a failure like this does occur, the person concerned would be better directed to a homelessness agency.”
However, a Government source said: “You have to accept that even if you do everything you can for prisoners, there is a chance some could end up homeless. It is perfectly rational advice to offer people but I appreciate there are other options available.”
The draft document was circulated to prison and probation chiefs, although not issued to offenders. It is understood it has now been rewritten without the street living guidance.
The draft advised prisoners bedding down on the streets to stay in a “group” as they were “less likely to be bothered” by thieves or people out to cause harm. Tips to keep the cold out included using newspapers and cardboard.
“You can put newspaper between layers of clothing to keep warm. Newspaper can also be used as shelter, blankets, pillows, toilet paper and fuel for a fire,” it said, adding that cardboard could also “provide a bit of cushion and warmth from the cold ground.”
It warned that finding food on the streets might not always work, so any extra should be stored safely in their bags. If they had money, they should target supermarkets at the end of the day as they offered big discounts. Otherwise, they should ask their probation officer for the nearest food bank.
It suggested they might find it “easier to blend in” with the population. “This may allow you to have access to shops, potential work opportunities and avoid conflict on the streets. If you look normal, act and smell like you are not homeless, people are more likely to be friendly towards you.”
The document gives practical advice for those who may not have accommodation when they’re released from prison. It says support organisations, charities, councils and probation staff will work with them to find a place, saying “we want you to have the best possible start”.
‘Not enough housing for everyone’
But the guide acknowledges that it may not be possible. “The truth is that there is not enough housing for everyone and therefore there is a risk you could be released with nowhere to live,” it says.
An MoJ spokesman said: “This draft document has not been issued to prisoners but we fully recognise the importance of stable accommodation in cutting reoffending and protecting the public.
“That’s why we are spending £200 million a year to improve access to accommodation, and measures we have put in place have already driven a 30 per cent reduction in homeless prison leavers.”