Clients exiting custodial arrangements

Upon release from prison, dischargees can face stigma associated with a history of imprisonment and face discrimination from landlords and potential employers (Schetzer & StreetCare 2013). People applying for parole may experience difficulties securing accommodation, leading to refusal of parole or breach of parole conditions and subsequent return to prison. Parole officers must approve accommodation conditions for the duration of parole and if the assigned accommodation (including temporary or supported accommodation) becomes unavailable, it puts these people in breach of their parole conditions (Schetzer & StreetCare 2013).

People exiting custody can be supported to find stable housing by provision of adequate exit planning prior to release and integrated case management post-release (Schetzer & StreetCare 2013). People discharged from prison need housing and employment for successful re-entry into the community and to reduce the likelihood of returning to prison. Dischargees without housing often cycle from prison into homelessness and back into prison, with prison dischargees who experience homelessness almost twice as likely to return to prison within 9 months of release (Baldry et al. 2006).

Young people leaving juvenile detention centres also face a high risk of becoming homeless, especially those who spend 12 months or more in juvenile detention (Bevitt et al. 2015). Homelessness or housing instability are often cited as drivers of increasing juvenile detention populations, with young people remanded in custody ‘for their own good’ due to a lack of appropriate options for accommodation (Cunneen et al. 2016; Richards 2011). Among young people who were released from juvenile detention, 1 in 8 (12%) received homelessness support within 2 years of leaving, while 1 in 12 (8%) received homeless support within 12 months (AIHW 2012). People with a history of juvenile justice supervision are also more vulnerable to homelessness in later years. People who have previously been in juvenile detention were almost twice as likely to have slept rough or in squats (Bevitt et al. 2015).

At 30 June 2018, there were almost 43,000 adult prisoners in custody, representing a 4% increase since 30 June 2017 and a 40% increase over the past 5 years (ABS 2018). Finding suitable, stable accommodation is a major concern for people who are discharged from prison, particularly for those without family support. More than half (54%) of prison dischargees expect to be homeless upon release; many (44%) plan to sleep in short-term or emergency accommodation upon release (AIHW 2019).

People exiting institutions and care into homelessness are a national priority homelessness cohort identified in the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement which came into effect on 1 July 2018 (CFFR 2018) (see Policy section for more information).

Key findings

  • In 2018–19, almost 9,600 SHS clients were identified as exiting from a custodial facility.
  • More than 3 in 4 (77%) clients exiting custody were male.
  • Almost half (48%) had reported a current mental health issue and 1 in 3 (35%) had reported problematic drug and/or alcohol use.
  • 7 in 10 (69%) clients exiting custody were returning SHS clients; most females were returning clients (76%).
  • One-quarter (24%) of those with a case management plan achieved all the set goals, similar to the proportion in the overall SHS population (25%).
  • Transition from custodial arrangements’ was the most commonly reported main reason for seeking assistance (66%), followed by ‘housing crisis’ (8%).

Reporting clients exiting custodial arrangements in the Specialist Homelessness Services Collection (SHSC)

A client is identified as transitioning from a custodial setting if they are 10 years or older and provided any of the following information in their first support period (week before or at the beginning of support period):

Their dwelling type was:

  • adult correctional facility
  • youth or juvenile justice detention centre
  • immigration detention centre, or

One of their reasons for seeking assistance was:

  • transition from a custodial arrangement, or

Their formal referral source was:

  • youth or juvenile justice correction centre
  • adult correctional facility.

Note, in the SHS collection it is not possible to distinguish between clients who have sought assistance without leaving an institutional setting (that is, they may have engaged with in-reach programs pending release from an institution) and those who may have left an institutional setting but returned prior to the end of support.

For more information see Technical notes.

Client characteristics

In 2018–19 (Table EXIT.1):

  • SHS agencies assisted almost 9,600 clients who were exiting custodial arrangements, an increase of more than 1,200 clients from 2017–18.
  • Clients exiting custodial arrangements accounted for 3% of all SHS clients.
  • The rate of clients exiting custodial arrangements was 3.8 per 10,000 population, increasing from 3.4 in 2017–18.
Table EXIT.1: Clients exiting custodial arrangements: at a glance—2014–15 to 2018–19





2017–18 2018-19

Number of clients




8,338 9,577

Proportion of all clients




3 3

Rate (per 10,000 population)






Housing situation at the beginning of the first support period (proportion (per cent) of all clients)





34 30

At risk of homelessness




66 70

Length of support (median number of days)



45 49 44

Average number of support periods per client




1.9 1.9

Proportion receiving accommodation




37 36

Median number of nights accommodated




22 18

Proportion of a client group with a case management plan




53 47

Achievement of all case management goals (per cent)




22 24


  1. Rates are crude rates based on the Australian estimated resident population (ERP) at 30 June of the reference year. Minor adjustments in rates may occur between publications reflecting revision of the estimated resident population by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
  2. The denominator for the proportion receiving accommodation is all SHS clients who have exited custodial arrangements. Denominator values for proportions are provided in the relevant supplementary table.
  3. The denominator for the proportion achieving all case management goals is the number of client groups with a case management plan. Denominator values for proportions are provided in the relevant supplementary table.
  4. Data for 2014–15 to 2016–17 have been adjusted for non-response. Due to improvements in the rates of agency participation and SLK validity, data from 2017–18 are not weighted. The removal of weighting does not constitute a break in time series and weighted data from 2014–15 to 2016–17 are comparable with unweighted data for 2017–18 onwards. For further information, please refer to the Technical Notes.
  5. In 2017–18, age and age-related variables were derived using a more robust calculation method. Data for previous years have been updated with the improved calculation method for age. As such, data prior to 2017–18 contained in the SHS Annual Report may not match that contained in the SHS Annual Report Historical Tables.

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2014–15 to 2018–19.

Age and sex

  • Most clients who were exiting custodial arrangements were male (77% or around 7,400 clients).
  • The largest age groups among clients exiting custodial arrangements were those aged 35–44 (31% or nearly 3,000 clients) and those aged 25–34 (31% or over 2,900 clients).
  • Male clients were more likely to be in the 35–44 age group (32% of males, compared with 29% of females) while female clients were more likely to be in the 25–34 age group (33% of females, compared with 30% of males).

Indigenous status

One in 4 clients whose Indigenous status was known exiting custodial arrangements identified as Indigenous (26% or almost 2,400 clients). Female clients who were exiting custodial arrangements were more likely than male clients to identify as Indigenous (34% of females, compared with 24% of males).

State and territory and remoteness

  • More than half of clients exiting custodial arrangements accessed services in Victoria (51% or nearly 4,900 clients) and a further 1 in 4 accessed services in New South Wales (24% or around 2,300 clients).
  • The highest rate of clients exiting custodial arrangements was in the Northern Territory (10 clients per 10,000 population), followed by Victoria (8 clients per 10,000).
  • The majority of clients exiting custodial arrangements accessed services in Major cities (62% or nearly 6,000 clients), followed by Inner regional areas (24% or over 2,300 clients).

Living arrangements

  • Among clients exiting custodial arrangements, the most commonly reported living arrangement at the beginning of support was lone persons (74% or almost 7,000 clients), followed by groups (15% or almost 1,400 clients).
  • Male clients were more likely to be living alone (77% of males, compared with 64% of females) while females clients were more likely to be living as a single parent with one or more children (11%, compared with 2% males).

Selected vulnerabilities

SHS clients can face additional vulnerabilities that make them more susceptible to experiencing homelessness, in particular family and domestic violence, mental health issues and problematic drug and/or alcohol use.

In 2018–19, of the almost 9,600 clients exiting custody, 3 in 5 (62%) reported experiencing one or more of these vulnerabilities (Table EXIT.2):

  • Almost half (48% or nearly 4,600 clients) reported a current mental health issue, as a single vulnerability or in combination with other vulnerabilities.
  • Nearly 2 in 5 (38% or 3,600 clients) reported none of these 3 vulnerabilities.
  • Over 1 in 3 (35% or over 3,300 clients) reported problematic drug and/or alcohol use, as a single vulnerability or in combination with other vulnerabilities.
  • While 1 in 5 clients (21%) reported only having a current mental health issue, an additional 17% (or 1,700 clients) reported both a current mental health issue and problematic drug and/or alcohol use.
  • More than 1 in 7 (15% or around 1,400 clients) reported experiencing family and domestic violence as a single vulnerability or in combination with other vulnerabilities.
  • 7% (or around 600 clients) reported experiencing all 3 vulnerabilities.
Table EXIT.2: Clients exiting custodial arrangements, by selected vulnerability characteristics, 2018–19

Family and domestic violence

Mental health issue

Problematic drug
and/or alcohol use


Per cent















































  1. Clients are assigned to one category only based on their vulnerability profile.
  2. Clients are aged 10 and over.
  3. Totals may not sum due to rounding.

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection 2018–19.

Service use patterns

  • In 2018–19, clients exiting custody had an average of 1.9 support periods per client and a median of 44 days of support, decreasing from 49 days in 2017–18 but consistent with the median length of support from 2014–15 to 2016–17.
  • Over 1 in 3 (36%) clients exiting custody were provided with accommodation with a median of 18 nights of accommodation; fewer nights of accommodation compared with the overall SHS population (29 nights).

New or returning clients

  • 7 in 10 clients who were exiting custodial arrangements (69% or over 6,600 clients) were returning clients, having previously accessed specialist homelessness services at some point since the SHS collection began in 2011–12.
  • While less than one-quarter (23%) of all clients exiting custody were female, they were more likely to be returning clients (76%, compared with 67% males).

Main reasons for seeking assistance

In 2018–19, the main reasons for seeking assistance among clients exiting custodial arrangements were:

  • transition from custodial arrangements (66% or more than 6,300 clients)
  • housing crisis (8% or almost 800 clients)
  • inadequate or inappropriate dwelling conditions (5% or around 500 clients).

Clients exiting custodial arrangements who were at risk of homeless at first presentation were more likely to identify their main reason for seeking assistance as transition from custodial arrangements (76% of those at risk, compared with 44% experiencing homelessness).

Compared with those who were at risk, clients exiting custodial arrangements who were homeless were more likely to report housing crisis (16%, compared with 5% at risk) or inadequate or inappropriate dwelling conditions (12%, compared with 2% at risk) as the main reason for seeking assistance.

Services needed and provided

Similar to the overall SHS population, clients exiting custodial arrangements needed general services that were provided by SHS agencies including advice/information, advocacy/liaison on behalf of client and other basic assistance.

Apart from general services, the most common services requested by clients exiting custody were:

  • short-term or emergency accommodation (53% or nearly 5,100 clients), with 57% receiving this service
  • long-term housing (49% or 4,700 clients), with 3% receiving this service
  • assistance to sustain tenancy or prevent tenancy failure or eviction (43% or around 4,100 clients), with 88% receiving this service
  • medium-term/transitional housing (39% or 3,700 clients), with 18% receiving this service.

Clients exiting custody were also more likely than the overall SHS population to request services including:

  • assistance with challenging social/behavioural problems (18%, compared with 13%), with 85% receiving this service
  • retrieval/storage/removal of personal belongings (13%, compared with 10%), with 87% receiving this service
  • drug/alcohol counselling (11%, compared with 4%), with 41% receiving this service
  • employment assistance (10%, compared with 6%), with 62% receiving this service.

Outcomes at the end of support

Outcomes presented here describe the change in clients’ housing situation between the start and end of support. Data is limited to clients who ceased receiving support during the financial year—meaning that their support periods had closed and they did not have ongoing support at the end of the year.

Many clients had long periods of support or even multiple support periods during 2018–19. They may have had a number of changes in their housing situation over the course of their support. These changes within the year are not reflected in the data presented here, rather the client situation at the start of their first support period in 2018–19 is compared with the end of their last support period in 2018–19. A proportion of these clients may have sought assistance prior to 2018–19, and may again in the future.

In 2018–19, for clients exiting custodial arrangements (Table EXIT.3):

  • The largest change was in the proportion of clients who were living in institutional settings, which dropped from 64% to 44% at the end of support (a decrease of 1,700 clients).
  • Aside from institutional settings, more clients were known to be housed at the end of support; the proportion of clients living in private or other housing increased from 5% to 12% (over 400 clients increase), while the proportion living in public or community housing increased from 3% to 9% (400 clients).
  • Most clients leaving institutional settings who ended support known to be homeless were staying in short-term temporary accommodation at the end of support; the proportion of clients in short-term temporary accommodation increased from 13% to 18% (around 300 clients).

These trends demonstrate that known housing outcomes at the end of support can be challenging for clients transitioning from institutional settings. While some clients progressed towards more positive housing solutions, many remained in institutional settings, returned to institutional settings or were in temporary accommodation at the end of support. Some clients might only require short-term accommodation immediately after leaving, others might need support to access or maintain housing in the long-term.

Table EXIT.3: Clients exiting custodial arrangements (closed support), by housing situation at the beginning and end of support, 2018–19

Housing situation

Beginning of support

End of

Beginning of support
(per cent)

End of
(per cent)

No shelter or improvised/inadequate dwelling
538 408 7.4 6.2
Short term temporary accommodation 905 1,212 12.5 18.4

House, townhouse or flat - couch surfer or with no tenure





Total homeless 2,051 2,269 28.4 34.4

Public or community housing - renter or rent free





Private or other housing - renter, rent free or owner





Institutional settings





Total at risk





Total clients with known housing situation 7,224 6,599 100.0 100.0
Not stated/other 262 887    

Total clients






  1. Percentages have been calculated using total number of clients as the denominator (less not stated/other).
  2. It is important to note that individual clients beginning support in one housing type need not necessarily be the same individuals ending support in that housing type.
  3. Not stated/other includes those clients whose housing situation at either the beginning or end of support was unknown.

Source: Specialist Homelessness Services Collection. Supplementary table EXIT.4.


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