Solutions: Leaving Corrections and Effective Discharge Planning
A growing body of Canadian research focuses on the bidirectional relationship between homelessness and prison. That is, people who are homeless are more likely to become imprisoned, and are over-represented in the prison population. Additionally, because of the inadequacy of discharge planning and reintegration policies and practices, both for those who are convicted and those awaiting trial on remand, many ex-prisoners are discharged directly into homelessness. Discharging people from prison represents a failure of policy and practice. For without proper and adequate transitional support (including housing), there is a risk of reoffending and/or enduring homelessness. There is a strong body of research evidence that attests to this.
While research shows that for people leaving corrections, attention to discharge planning and support for reintegration to independent living has benefits in terms of reduced recidivism, increased public safety and reduced homelessness, the evidence often collides with ‘get tough on crime’ policies that, in a sense, achieve the opposite (this is particularly important in the Canadian context, where we are implementing policies that follow from the mistakes made in the United States from the 1970s to 1990s).
Despite this history, there are programs that provide support based on an understanding of the challenges faced by offenders upon reintegration. In a recent literature review* by the AERO project identified the following approaches and services that are believed to be effective in helping inmates retain and/or find and maintain housing upon release. Many of these are uncommon or non-existent in Canada.
- Programs that enable inmates to retain their housing while incarcerated;
- Re-entry planning that begins at the time of sentencing;
- Programming that specifically targets inmates who are likely to become homeless on release;
- Programs that provide information about housing services or that maintain landlord registries in the area where the ex-offender wishes to live;
- Legislation, including laws that prevent landlords from discriminating on the basis of a criminal record, and policies that define certain ex-prisoners as a priority need group for housing purposes;
- Transfer of offenders to pre-release facilities near the offender's intended home, so they can begin to search for housing and work, re-connect with family and loved ones, and access community supports;
- Utilization of community services within jails, to provide stronger support to inmates who have a history of homelessness, as well as those with mental illness, addictions, or FASD.
Ensuring that people discharged from prison have access to safe affordable housing not only improves their life chances, but also benefits communities, as recidivism rates decline. In other words, providing housing for released offenders is both a housing and crime reduction issue.
* Lafleur, Harrison & O’Grady, forthcoming.
Stephen Gaetz is a Professor in the Faculty of Education and is the Director of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and the Homeless Hub. He is also President of Raising the Roof, a leading Canadian charity that focuses on long term solutions to homelessness.
Dr. Gaetz is committed to a research agenda that foregrounds social justice and attempts to make research on homelessness relevant to policy and program development. His research on homeless youth has focused on their economic strategies, health, education and legal and justice issues, and more recently, he has focused his attention on policy and in particular the Canadian Response to homelessness. He has recently edited two volumes on homelessness in Canada, including: Housing First in Canada – Supporting Communities to End Homelessness. (2013) and Youth homelessness in Canada: Implications for policy and practice (2013). In addition, he has published a book on community-based responses to youth problems in Ireland and written numerous reports and articles published in a wide range of peer reviewed journals. Dr. Gaetz was Associate Dean of Research and Professional Development in the Faculty of Education Prior to his time at York University, Dr. Gaetz worked in the Community Health Sector, both at Shout Clinic (a health clinic for street youth in Toronto) and Queen West Community Health Centre in Toronto.
Dr. Gaetz has played a leading international role in knowledge dissemination in the area of homelessness. York played host to 2005’s Canadian Conference on Homelessness – the first research conference of its kind in Canada. In addition, York University now hosts the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and the Homeless Hub the first comprehensive and cross-disciplinary web-based clearinghouse of homelessness research in the world. The focus of this network is to work with researchers across Canada to mobilize research so that it has a greater impact on homelessness policy and planning. Through the CHRN Dr. Gaetz is publishing policy relevant research, including two recent reports on youth homelessness: A Safe and Decent Place to Live: Towards a Housing First Framework for Youth. (2014) and Coming of Age: Reimagining our Response to Youth Homelessness in Canada. (2014), as well as The Canadian Definition of Homelessness (2012), The Real Cost of Homelessness. Can we save money by doing the right thing? (2012), Can I See Your ID? The Policing of Homeless Youth in Toronto (2011), and Family Matters: Homeless youth and Eva’s Initiatives “Family Reconnect” Program. (2011).
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The analysis and interpretations contained in the blog posts are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.