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.