Where do prisoners go after they've served their time?
The lucky ones stay move home to families or friends. But for most people leaving the criminal justice system, housing options are extremely limited. Many are forced to turn to the emergency shelter system for food, clothing, and shelter.
Emergency shelters would seem to be a good entry point for ex-prisoners wishing connect to rehabilitation or housing programs.
The problem is, permanent supportive housing programs - especially those based on the Housing First model - are simply not an option for former prisoners. Not only are the waiting lists for these programs long and the housing limited, but their criminal record precludes prisoners coming out of the prison system from qualifying for these programs.
According to Affordable Housing Finance magazine, just about all of the apartments used for Housing First are supported with rental subsidies from Section 8 vouchers or HUD's McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Shelter-Plus-Care program. These programs are administered by local agencies, most of which exclude potential tenants with criminal records.
Furthermore, people exiting prison do not meet the federal definition of homeless. According to the article:
The McKinney-Vento program doesn't recognize anyone who has just completed a month or more in an institution like jail as homeless. That's because to qualify as homeless, clients need to have been in a homeless shelter within the last 30 days or have a number of stays in the recent past. A jail inmate interested in supportive housing will often have to return to a homeless shelter before becoming eligible for funding.This is alarming. People being released from prison are much more likely to be arrested again if they return to life on the streets or in shelter. According to one study, nearly 20% of parolees who were arrested for a second time (or third, or fourth, etc.) were homeless at the time of their arrest.
"There is a subset of people that are exiting jail or prison; they are guaranteed to go back unless they get support," said Andy McMahon, a senior program manager for CSH (Corporation for Supportive Housing, a national advocacy group). "They don't have the capacity to stay housed or stay out of jail."While we don't know if incarceration is a result of homelessness or homelessness is a result of incarceration, one thing is clear: safe, supportive housing upon release from prison is absolutely necessary in order to prevent recidivism.