Synthesis of Evidence on Criminal Justice Reentry and Homelessness

People who are released from jails and prisons are among those most vulnerable to homelessness. The challenges that people face in securing housing upon re-entering the community from jail or prison are substantial. Homelessness is a particular concern for subpopulations such as people convicted of sex offenses, with substance abuse problems, or diagnosed mental illness.  Factors contributing to increased risk for homelessness also include unemployment and limited job skills, poverty, chronic health conditions, and weakened family and social support ties. A criminal record alone can limit access to public housing and housing vouchers, including moving in with family members who have those housing subsidies.

Programs that seek to disrupt the relationship between incarceration and subsequent homelessness include interventions from discharge planning, to transitional community corrections facilities, to temporary rental assistance, to supportive housing.

Supportive housing programs have most clearly demonstrated the ability to place and retain formerly incarcerated people in housing. Findings for the other types of programs that have been studied are more limited. There is some evidence that providing rental assistance for a limited period of time is associated with reductions in homelessness for people leaving incarceration, but the evidence is mixed, as is the design of these programs—the length and depth of the rent subsidy and the other transitional supports provided pre or post-release. No studies of community corrections facilities—halfway houses and other programs that provide a place to stay during the transition from jail or prison—have measured their effect on housing stability or homelessness after the transition ends.

Many of the current programs for reentering populations are pilot projects that served a small number of people and lasted for a limited time. A major gap in the evidence is how to scale-up reentry housing initiatives so as to establish sufficient capacity to meet the need for housing supports for those exiting incarceration.

Addressing the problems people face in securing housing upon re-entering will require partnerships between criminal justice and community services systems; participation by mainstream providers of affordable housing; and involvement by policy-makers and funders at all levels of government.

Read the full research brief to see the underlying research evidence and implications for policymakers and practitioners.

Posted April 2020