Clients exiting custodial arrangements
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Upon release, people discharged from prison can face stigma associated with a history of incarceration and discrimination from landlords and potential employers (Schetzer & StreetCare 2013). Prisoners applying for parole may experience difficulties securing appropriately located and affordable 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).
Many adults entering prison were previously experiencing homelessness, with 1 in 3 homeless in the 30 days prior to being incarcerated (AIHW 2019). More than a quarter (27%) of surveyed women in prisons were in short-term or emergency accommodation in the 30 days prior to being incarcerated (AIHW 2020). The inter-relationship between housing insecurity and imprisonment and re-imprisonment is relatively well established (summarised in Martin et al. 2021). Post-release housing assistance can be an effective measure in addressing the imprisonment–homelessness cycle. Critically, rates of re-imprisonment have shown to be less for ex-prisoners with complex needs who receive public housing compared with those who receive private rent assistance only (Martin et al. 2021).
Young people leaving youth detention can also become entangled in a cycle of detention and homelessness. Housing instability and homelessness are often cited as drivers of an increasing youth detention population, with young people remanded in detention due to a lack of appropriate options for accommodation (Cunneen et al. 2016; Richards 2011). Among those released from detention, 8% of young people accessed homelessness support within 12 months of release (AIHW 2012). Moreover, people with a history of youth justice supervision remain vulnerable to homelessness in adulthood. Adults who were previously under youth justice supervision are almost twice as likely to sleep rough or in squats (Bevitt et al. 2015). In comparison with people who have only experienced specialist homelessness services, those who have experienced both these services and youth justice supervision were more likely to report having a drug and/or alcohol issue, and to end specialist homelessness services support sleeping rough (AIHW 2016).
On June 30 2020 there were 41,060 prisoners in Australian prisons, a 5% decrease from 30 June 2019 and the first national decrease since 2011 (ABS 2020). More than half (54%) of prison dischargees expected to be homeless upon release, with 44% of prison dischargees planning to stay in short-term or emergency accommodation (AIHW 2019). Having stable accommodation helps people exiting prison to transition successfully into society and reduces the likelihood of reoffending. Currently, 46% of prison dischargees return to prison with a new sentence within two years (SCRGSP 2020a). With the cost of imprisonment at $113,000 per person per year, there are substantial cost savings associated with decreasing the rate of recidivism in Australia (SCRGSP 2020b).
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).
Reporting clients exiting custodial arrangements in the Specialist Homelessness Services Collection (SHSC)
In the SHSC, a client is identified as leaving a custodial setting if, in their first support period during the reporting period, either in the week before or at presentation:
- their dwelling type was adult correctional facility, youth/juvenile justice detention centre or immigration detention centre
- they identified transition from custodial arrangements as a reason for seeking assistance, or
- their source of formal referral to the agency was youth or juvenile justice detention centre or adult correctional facility.
Some of these clients were still in custody at the time they began receiving support. Note, in the SHSC, it is not possible to distinguish between clients who have received assistance without leaving an institutional setting and those who may have left an institutional setting but returned prior to the end of support.
Children aged under 10 cannot be charged with a criminal offence in Australia. Therefore, clients aged under 10 who were identified as exiting from adult correctional facilities or youth/juvenile justice detention centres have been excluded.
For more information, see Technical notes.
In 2020–21 (Supplementary table EXIT.1):
- there were 8,900 SHS clients who exited custodial arrangements equating to 3.2% of all SHS clients
- there were almost 600 fewer SHS clients exiting custodial arrangements compared with 2019–20
- the rate of SHS clients exiting custodial arrangements was 3.5 per 10,000 population, a decrease from 3.7 in 2019–20.
Figure EXIT.1: Key demographics, SHS Clients exiting custodial arrangements, 2020–21
This interactive image describes the characteristics of around 8,900 clients existing custodial arrangements who received SHS support in 2020–21. Most clients were male. More than a quarter were Indigenous. Victoria had the greatest number of clients and the Northern Territory had the highest rate of clients per 10,000 population. The majority of clients had previously been assisted by a SHS agency since July 2011. Most were at risk of homelessness at the start of support. Most were in major cities.
Clients exiting custodial arrangements may face challenges that make them more vulnerable to experiencing homelessness. The vulnerabilities presented here include family and domestic violence, a current mental health issue and problematic drug and/or alcohol use.
In 2020–21, of the almost 8,900 clients exiting custodial arrangements, around 3 in 5 (59%) reported experiencing one or more vulnerabilities (Supplementary table CLIENTS.43), the lowest of all SHS client groups and all SHS clients generally (63%). Almost half (47% or around 4,100 clients) reported a current mental health issue, as a single vulnerability or in combination with other vulnerabilities.
Figure EXIT.2: Clients existing custodial arrangements, by selected vulnerability characteristics, 2020–21
The length of support clients exiting custodial arrangements received increased in 2020–21 to a median of 48 days, up from 46 days in 2019–20. The average number of support periods per client was 2.1 support periods per client in 2020–21. The proportion of clients receiving accommodation was 41% with a median of 20 nights per client (Supplementary table CLIENTS.44).
New or returning clients
In 2020–21 (Supplementary table CLIENTS.38):
- Of the 8,900 clients exiting custodial arrangements, 28% (around 2,500 clients) were new to SHS agencies and 72% (almost 6,400 clients) were returning clients, having previously been assisted by a SHS agency at some point since the collection began in July 2011. The proportion of returning clients was one of the highest among all SHS client groups and higher than all SHS clients (61%; Supplementary table CLIENTS.2).
- New clients exiting custodial arrangements were more likely to be under 18 (10%, compared with 4.2% of returning clients).
- While female clients comprised 21% of all clients exiting custodial arrangements, a higher proportion of females were returning clients (78%, compared with 70% males).
In 2020–21, the main reasons for seeking assistance among clients exiting custodial arrangements were (Supplementary table EXIT.4):
- transition from custodial arrangements (66% or 5,800 clients)
- inadequate or inappropriate dwelling conditions (6.6% or about 580 clients)
- housing crisis (6.2% or almost 550 clients).
Clients exiting custodial arrangements who were at risk of homelessness at first presentation were more likely to identify transition from custodial arrangements as their main reason for seeking assistance (77%, compared with 46% experiencing homelessness) (Supplementary table EXIT.5).
Clients exiting custodial arrangements who were experiencing homelessness at first presentation were more likely to report housing crisis (11%, compared with 3.8% at risk) or inadequate or inappropriate dwelling conditions (14%, compared with 2.7% at risk) as their main reason for seeking assistance.
Services needed and provided
Clients exiting custody were more likely than all SHS clients to need services including (Supplementary tables EXIT.2, CLIENTS.23):
- assistance with challenging social/behavioural problems (18%, compared with 12%), with 86% receiving this service
- drug/alcohol counselling (9.3%, compared with 3.5%), with 38% receiving this service
- employment assistance (9.2%, compared with 6.0%), with 71% receiving this service.
Figure EXIT.3: Clients exiting custodial arrangements, by services needed and provided, 2020-21
This interactive stacked horizontal bar graph shows the services needed by clients exiting custodial arrangements and their provision status. Short term accommodation was the most needed service and provided to most of these clients. Assistance to sustain tenancy or prevent tenancy failure or eviction was the most provided service. Long term housing was the least provided service.
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 2020–21. 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 2020–21 is compared with the end of their last support period in 2020–21. A proportion of these clients may have sought assistance prior to 2020–21, and may again in the future.
In 2020–21, for clients exiting custodial arrangements (Supplementary table EXIT.3):
- Almost 2 in 5 (38%) clients were experiencing homeless at the end of support, an increase from 34% at the beginning of support, reflective of the housing challenges faced by people leaving prison. Most of those experiencing homelessness at the end of support (around 1,400 clients) were living in short term temporary accommodation.
- Among clients leaving institutional settings, the number living in public or community housing increased by about 470 clients at the end of support and the number of clients living in private or other housing increased by almost 390 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.
Figure EXIT.4: Housing situation for clients exiting custodial arrangements with closed support, 2020–21
This interactive Sankey diagram shows the housing situation (including rough sleeping, couch surfing, short-term accommodation, public/community housing, private housing and institutional settings) of clients exiting custodial arrangements with closed support periods at first presentation and at the end of support. The diagram shows clients’ housing situation journey from start to end of support. Most started and ended support in institutional settings.
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AIHW 2019. The health of Australia’s prisoners 2018. Cat. no. PHE 246. Canberra: AIHW.
AIHW 2016. Vulnerable young people: interactions across homelessness, youth justice and child protection: 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2015. Cat. no. HOU 279. Canberra: AIHW.
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CFFR (Council on Federal Financial Relations) 2018. National Housing and Homelessness Agreement. Viewed 9 October 2020,
Cunneen C, Goldson B & Russell S 2016. Juvenile justice, young people and human rights in Australia. Current Issues in Criminal Justice 28(2): 173–189. doi:10.1080/10345329.2016.12036067.
Martin C, Reeve R, McCausland R, Baldry E, Burton P, White R, Thomas S 2021. Exiting prison with complex support needs: the role of housing assistance, AHURI Final Report No. 361, Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute Limited, Melbourne.
Richards K 2011. Trends in juvenile detention in Australia. Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice 416: 1-8. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.
Schetzer L & StreetCare 2013. Beyond the prison gates: the experiences of people recently released from prison into homelessness and housing crisis. Sydney: Public Interest Advocacy Centre.
SCRGSP (Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision) 2020a. Report on Government Services 2020, Part C Table CA.4. Canberra: Productivity Commission.
SCRGSP 2020b. Report on Government Services 2020, Part C, Chapter 8 Table 8A.18. Canberra: Productivity Commission.