Criminal Justice Reentry and Homelessness

People who are released from jails and prisons are among those most vulnerable to homelessness. These individuals often have few resources and may not have a support system in the community to which they are returning, particularly after lengthy periods of incarceration in prisons. The criminal records that follow formerly incarcerated people, even after they have served their sentences, can be obstacles to finding housing and employment. Many former prisoners have a substance abuse disorder, mental illness, or co-occurring challenge that may have gone untreated while they were incarcerated.  All of these factors increase their risk of homelessness.

Preliminary evidence shows that pre-incarceration shelter use is the strongest predictor of shelter use following incarceration—a finding that may have implications for the targeting of services.[1] Without assistance, in particular with housing and/or employment, ex-offenders may find themselves experiencing homelessness or back behind bars.

Evaluations in two states, Maryland and California, indicate low rates of recidivism and homelessness among former prisoners and inmates who received housing assistance, case management, and supportive services through state-sponsored programs upon reentry.[2] However, further research is needed to better understand services needs and the effectiveness of interventions among ex-offenders.

Read the full synthesis of evidence here and watch a webinar convened by CESH where experts from the fields of homeless services and criminal justice discussed evidence on how people reentering society from jails and prisons can avoid homelessness.

Dana Hunt, an expert who has spent many years studying the criminal justice system, illegal drug use, and drug treatment programs, has co-authored the synthesis of literature on the intersection of homelessness and the criminal justice system.

Stephen Metraux co-authored the synthesis of evidence on criminal justice and homelessness. He is an expert on homelessness, and has examined how various institutional contexts intersect with homelessness, including the military, jails and prisons, and child welfare. 

[1] Metraux, Stephen and Dennis Culhane. Homeless shelter use and reincarceration following prison release. Criminology and Public Policy; 2004: 3(2), 139-160; Metraux, Stephen. Assessing the impact of the Gaudenzia FIR-St. Residential Treatment Program in the context of prison release and community outcomes for released state prisoners with mental illness in Philadelphia: A report to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. 2007. University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.

[2] Metraux, Stephen, Caterina Roman, and Richard Cho. “Incarceration and homelessness.” in Deborah Dennis, Gretchen Locke, and Jill Khadduri, eds., Toward Understanding Homelessness: The 2007 National Symposium on Homelessness Research. 2007 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.