Clients exiting custodial arrangements

Key findings: Clients exiting custodial arrangements, 2021–22

This image highlights a number of key finding concerning clients exiting custodial arrangements. Around 9,000 SHS clients in 2021–21 exited custodial arrangements; the rate of these clients was 3.5 per 10,000 population; around 31%25 begun support experiencing homelessness and 35%25 end support experiencing homelessness; more than three quarters were male; around 44%25 had mental health issues; and almost three quarters had previously been assisted at some point since July 2011.

Access to stable accommodation is critical for successful reintegration into the community and people exiting custody can be highly vulnerable to not having adequate and stable accommodation (AIC 2018). People discharged from prison can face stigma associated with a history of incarceration and discrimination from landlords and potential employers (Schetzer and 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 (Schetzer and StreetCare 2013).

Many adults entering prison had previous experiences of homelessness, with 1 in 3 homeless in the 30 days prior to being incarcerated (AIHW 2019). More than one-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 2021 there were 42,970 prisoners in Australian prisons, a 5% increase from 30 June 2020 (ABS 2021). 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, 45% of prison dischargees return to prison with a new sentence within two years (SCRGSP 2022a).

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 correctional centre or immigration detention centre
  • they identified transition from custodial arrangements as a reason for seeking assistance, or main reason for seeking assistance, or
  • their source of formal referral to the agency was youth or juvenile justice correctional 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 correctional centres have been excluded.

For more information, see Technical notes.

In 2021–22 (Supplementary tables EXIT.1 and HIST.EXIT):

  • There were around 9,000 SHS clients who exited custodial arrangements, equating to 3.3% of all SHS clients.
  • There were an additional 115 SHS clients exiting custodial arrangements compared with 2020–21.

Client characteristics

Figure EXIT.1: Key demographics, SHS Clients exiting custodial arrangements, 2021–22

This interactive image describes the characteristics of around 9,000 clients existing custodial arrangements who received SHS support in 2021–22. Most clients were male. Around a third 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.

Labour force status

In 2021–22, the majority of clients exiting custodial arrangements were not in the labour force (52%). More than two-fifths (46%) were unemployed (that is, seeking work) and only 2.5% were employed (Supplementary table EXIT.7).

Of the clients with known labour force status, female clients were more likely to be employed part-time (2.0% of all female clients) than males (1.0%) and females (47%) were also more likely to be unemployed than males (45%).

Selected vulnerabilities

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 2021–22, of the 9,000 clients exiting custodial arrangements, more than half (53%) reported experiencing one or more vulnerabilities (Supplementary table CLIENTS.45), lower than all SHS clients (61%). Around 2 in 5 (43% or around 3,900 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, 2021–22

This interactive bar graph shows the number of SHS clients exiting custodial arrangements also experiencing additional vulnerabilities, including family and domestic violence, having a current mental health problem and problematic drug and/or alcohol use. The graphs shows both the number of clients experiencing a single vulnerability only, as well as combinations of vulnerabilities, and presents data for each state and territory.

Service use patterns

On average, clients exiting custodial arrangements received a median of 47 days of support in 2021–22, down from 48 days in 2020–21. The average number of support periods per client was 2.0 support periods per client in 2021–22. The proportion of clients receiving accommodation was 38% with a median of 21 nights per client (Supplementary table CLIENTS.46).

New or returning clients

In 2021–22 (Supplementary table CLIENTS.40):

  • Of the 9,000 clients exiting custodial arrangements, 28% (around 2,500 clients) were new to SHS agencies and 72% (more than 6,500 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 (63%; Supplementary table CLIENTS.2).
  • New clients exiting custodial arrangements were more likely to be under 18 (9.2%, compared with 3.9% of returning clients).
  • While female clients comprised 22% of all clients exiting custodial arrangements, a higher proportion of females were returning clients (76%, compared with 71% males).

Main reasons for seeking assistance

In 2021–22, the main reasons for seeking assistance among clients exiting custodial arrangements were (Supplementary table EXIT.5):

  • transition from custodial arrangements (68% or 6,100 clients)
  • housing crisis (6.7% or about 600 clients)
  • inadequate or inappropriate dwelling conditions (5.4% or 480 clients).

Clients exiting custodial arrangements who were at risk of homelessness at first presentation were more likely to identify transition from custodial arrangements as the main reason for seeking assistance (79%, compared with 45% experiencing homelessness) (Supplementary table EXIT.6).

Clients exiting custodial arrangements who were experiencing homelessness at first presentation were more likely to report housing crisis (12%, compared with 3.7% at risk) or inadequate or inappropriate dwelling conditions (12%, compared with 2.3% at risk) as the 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.24):

  • assistance with challenging social/behavioural problems (17%, compared with 11%), with 85% receiving this service
  • drug/alcohol counselling (9.1%, compared with 3.0%), with 39% receiving this service
  • employment assistance (9.2%, compared with 5.9%), with 71% receiving this service.

Figure EXIT.3: Clients exiting custodial arrangements, by services needed and provided, 2021-22

This interactive stacked horizontal bar graph shows the services needed by clients exiting custodial arrangements and their provision status. Advice/information was the most needed service and the most provided service. Long term housing was the least provided service.

Housing situation and outcomes

Outcomes presented here highlight the changes in clients’ housing situation at the start and end of support. That is, the place they were residing before and after they were supported by a SHS agency. The information presented is limited only to clients who have stopped receiving support during the financial year, and who were no longer receiving ongoing support from a SHS agency. In particular, information on client housing situations at the start of their first period of support during 2021–22 is compared with the end of their last period of support in 2021–22. As such, this information does not cover any changes to their housing situation during their support period.

In 2021–22, for clients exiting custodial arrangements (Supplementary table EXIT.3):

  • More than one-third (35%) of clients were experiencing homelessness at the end of support, an increase from 31% 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 were living in short-term temporary accommodation (around 1,300 clients).
  • Among clients leaving institutional settings, the number living in public or community housing increased by about 450 clients at the end of support and the number of clients living in private or other housing increased by almost 350 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, 2021–22

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.