One of the classic metaphors for exiting prison is ‘going home’. However, more than half of people exiting Australian prisons either expect to be homeless or don’t know where they will be staying when they are released.
The connection between imprisonment and homelessness presents special risks for people with complex support needs: that is, people leaving prison who have a mental health condition and/or a cognitive disability. People with complex support needs are often excluded from community-based support and services because they are deemed ‘too difficult’, and so end up entangled in the criminal justice system.
Post-release housing assistance is a potentially powerful lever in arresting the imprisonment–homelessness cycle, and breaking down the disabling web of punishment and containment in which people with complex support needs are often caught.
- Imprisonment in Australia is growing and ex-prisoner housing need is growing; but at the same time, housing assistance capacity is declining.
- Ex-prisoners with complex support needs who receive public housing have better criminal justice outcomes than comparable ex-prisoners who receive private rental assistance only.
- In dollar terms, housing an ex-prisoner in a public housing tenancy generates, after five years, a net benefit of between $5,200 and $35,000, relative to the cost of providing them with assistance in private rental and/or through homelessness services.
- The evidence strongly supports the need for much greater provision of social housing to people exiting prison, particularly for those with complex support needs.