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