Criminals are to be guaranteed accommodation when they leave prison as part of a £20 million plan to reduce reoffending.

They will be housed in bedsits or hostels organised by the probation service in a bid to prevent them returning to crime.

Some 18,000 prisoners – or 30 per cent of those released – were in unsettled accommodation, rough sleeping or homeless last year, with a 50 per cent greater chance of reoffending than those who had secure housing.

About 3,000 a year will have the accommodation “safety net” under the scheme that will be operated in five of the 12 probation regions in England and Wales.

It is the first time ex-offenders will have been housed in private-sector accommodation in this way.

Ministers hope it will prevent thousands of law-abiding members of the public becoming victims of fresh crimes and potentially save billions in the cost of reoffending.

‘Breaking the cycle’

Robert Buckland, the Justice Secretary, said: “The combination of strong supervision from probation staff and support into treatment, a home and a job will drive down crime.

“It gives offenders the incentive and opportunity to break the cycle of repeat offending and will save thousands of law-abiding people from becoming victims.”

Ministry of Justice data shows that more than two thirds (67 per cent) of released prisoners who slept rough or were otherwise homeless went on to commit another crime within a year. This contrasts with 43 per cent of those who had a permanent home or short-term supported housing.

The £20 million will provide temporary accommodation for 12 weeks. A further £13 million has been handed to more than 140 councils across England to help find longer-term accommodation for released prisoners.

Mr Buckland will also host a summit with leading employers in October to encourage more businesses to hire prison leavers who have turned their backs on crime.

The Government is setting an example with plans to recruit at least 1,000 ex-offenders who have spurned crime into the Civil Service by the end of 2023.

Meanwhile, the UK’s first flexi-time courts are to be launched where judges will have longer morning and afternoon sessions to help reduce the backlog in cases.

Courts are to be allowed to hear two separate cases in two sittings, from 9am to 1pm and 2pm to 6pm, to increase the number of trials they can hold and speed up justice.

They have been trialled at three courtrooms and found to increase the number of cases that could be heard, by one for every court where it operated. At least three major court centres are now planning to introduce the new hours.

At the same time 60 crown courts are to be reopened by September and 32 temporary Nightingale court rooms will have their leases extended into 2022.

We are determined to tackle rising murder rates and stabbings fuelled by feuding drugs gangs

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister unveiled a landmark plan to cut crime further and faster with new measures to tackle serious violence and the scourge of recreational drug use.

Crime has been falling for many years, but we are determined to tackle the worrying increases in murder rates and stabbings that are being fuelled by feuding gangs and the drugs trade.

He also outlined new work to reduce theft, burglaries and anti-social behaviour so that fewer people become victims and our streets feel safer.

The 20,000 extra police officers we are almost halfway to having will help, but vital and sometimes overlooked prison and probation staff also play a huge role in cutting crime.

They might not have helmets and hi-vis but they are just as important as their partners in the police in the fight against crime because they help stop reoffending.

Around 80 per cent of those receiving cautions or convictions have offended before, with their crimes costing society a staggering £18 billion every year.

That’s why a key plank of our Beating Crime Plan will support the work prison and probation staff do to address the underlying causes of crime.

With support into accommodation, steady employment and treatment for drug and alcohol addictions, probation staff will give offenders the means and incentive to turn their lives around, so they can give back to society instead of damaging it further.

Homeless prison leavers are around 50 per cent more likely to reoffend, so it is crucial we keep them off the streets. Last week, we began providing basic, temporary homes to those leaving prison without somewhere to go and have given councils extra money to help them find longer-term accommodation from private landlords.

Vital too, is the security of a regular pay cheque, so offenders aren’t tempted back to criminal means to make ends meet. The Government itself is leading the way with plans to recruit at least one thousand ex-offenders into the Civil Service by 2023.

‘We re not naïve’

We’ve already got great companies like Timpson, The Clink, Greggs and Cook already working with prisons to train and employ those who want to break out of crime and I’ll be hosting a summit with businesses in October to encourage more to do the same.

Many people will grab this opportunity with both hands and use it to turn their lives around, but we are not naïve and know some will always choose to remain criminals. This extra support will be met equally with extra supervision, as my number one priority as Lord Chancellor is to protect the public.

We are midway through recruiting a record 2,500 trainee probation officers to keep a closer eye on offenders and we are increasing the use of electronic monitoring.

New alcohol monitoring tags are helping tackle booze-fuelled crimes like domestic abuse and late-night fights and we are GPS tagging prolific burglars and thieves as a new form of deterrent.

The best way to beat crime is by cutting it off at the source and that means addressing the reasons why people offend in the first place or carry on doing so. It is a task that the whole of Government is resolutely focused on, so we can build a safer society and prevent tens of thousands of law-abiding people becoming victims in future.

Robert Buckland QC MP is the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.