Public housing

Access to social housing for ex-convicts can stop homelessness after release

A recent study conducted for AHURI (the Australian Housing and Town Planning Research Institute) revealed how housing support after release can help prevent homelessness among ex-convicts. More importantly, access to social housing can also reduce recidivism among this population.

Entitled “Leaving prison with complex support needs: the role of housing assistance”, this study reviewed policies and programs relating to the accommodation of ex-prisoners with complex support needs in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. People working in housing, disability and reintegration support agencies, state corrections officials and ex-convicts from these three states were interviewed.

Australia’s prison population has grown over the past decade, with a corresponding increase in the number of prisoners released. Of the approximately 65,000 released from prison in 2019, one in seven sought help from a service specializing in homelessness. Ex-convicts have been the fastest growing client category for specialist homelessness services (SHS) over the past decade. However, the capacity for housing assistance is also decreasing.

“One of the classic metaphors for getting out of jail is ‘coming home’. However, more than half of people released from Australian prisons expect to be homeless or do not know where they will stay when released,” the study observed.

Finding stable housing is one of the biggest challenges facing those released from prison, the study finds. The insecurity around accommodation is not only stressful, but also hinders the abandonment of recurrences.

Main results of the study:

  • A significant history of abuse, neglect, trauma and institutionalization has led to ongoing challenges in terms of desistance from delinquency and reintegration into the community.
  • Inmate pre-release planning for housing and post-release support was constrained by high caseloads and limited services, and often remained very short of time before release.
  • The path to permanent housing for ex-convicts can take up to two years, with precarious temporary housing being stressful.
  • Access to private rental housing comes with barriers, primarily unaffordability, which makes this option difficult and impossible for many.
  • Ex-prisoners with complex support needs who receive social housing have better criminal justice outcomes than comparable ex-prisoners who only receive private housing assistance.
  • Social housing “flattens the curve” of average predicted police incidents (down 8.9% per year), time spent in custody (down 11.2% per year) and justice system costs per person ( down from $4,996 initially, then an additional $2,040 per year) among others.
  • In dollar terms, housing an ex-prisoner in public housing generates, after five years, a net benefit of between $5,200 and $35,000, compared to the cost of private rental assistance and/or through homelessness support services.
  • The path to social housing combined with ongoing support is the best long-term perspective.

the AHURI Report was written by Chris Martin, University of New South Wales; Rebecca Reeve, University of New South Wales; Ruth McCausland, University of New South Wales; Eileen Baldry, University of New South Wales; Pat Burton, University of Tasmania; Rob White, University of Tasmania; and Stuart Thomas, RMIT University.