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Opinion: A better way to restore people to their communities

From the March 2017 edition of Parity Magazine: I Shall Be Released: Post-Release and Homelessness

By Jason Davies-Kildea (Captain) Manager, Victoria Social Programme and Policy Unit, The Salvation Army, Australia Southern Territory

A cursory scan of just about any set of prisoner demographics quickly reveals a catalogue of social disadvantage. Our prison populations have disproportionately high numbers of people with health problems, including mental illness, addictions, intellectual disability and Acquired Brain Injury (ABI). Other overrepresented groups reflect lifelong social barriers, such as coming from a place of geographic disadvantage or being part of a family who are living through intergenerational poverty. Homelessness can intersect with, and exacerbate, many of these risk factors.

Across Australia, one in four prisoners are homeless upon entering prison and almost one in three expect to be homeless when they leave. Unsurprisingly, prison does not fix the problems associated with homelessness – it increases them. This is not just an indictment on our correctional or housing systems, it represents a major risk factor for recidivism. An AHURI study showed that becoming homeless or transient after release was a significant predictor for returning to custody. Correspondingly, having stable housing is a major protective factor against recidivism. 

The current housing affordability crisis in Australia is making these problems worse. Stable, affordable housing is becoming more and more difficult to find. Social housing options are extremely limited, with long waiting lists even for priority tenants. As the private rental market has become more competitive, low income tenants face fewer and worse housing options. For people leaving prison, it’s even harder. Too often ex-prisoners are left with even less choice about their housing environment due to stigma and prejudice…

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