Criminal justice reentry

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.

Dana Hunt, an expert who has spent many years studying the criminal justice system, illegal drug use, and drug treatment programs, is working on an up-to-date synthesis of the evidence on criminal justice reentry and homelessness that will be available on this website soon.

[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.

Dana Hunt
Stephen Metraux