New Zealand

Prisoners need support for stable housing to avoid reincarceration – report

prison generic, hands in prison cell

Thirty four percent of respondents who reported having unstable housing in an interview done six months after they were released from prison were reimprisoned within a year.
Photo: 123RF

Prisoners with unstable housing are nearly five times more likely to be reimprisoned within their first year of release than those with stable housing, a new report has found.

The University of Auckland study suggests Aotearoa is failing prisoners by not providing stable housing options once they are released.

The study interviewed 201 people from six prisons while they were incarcerated, just before their release and six and 12 months afterwards.

The report’s lead author, Associate Professor Alice Mills, said 34 percent of people who reported having unstable housing during their first post-release interview were reimprisoned within a year.

Having stable housing meant people leaving prison were in a better position to re-establish their lives and relationships, access support, services, and work, she said.

“We can’t afford as a society not to do this. Recidivism has a high human and economic cost in Aotearoa, which is why everyone who enters prison, regardless of their status, should be given a detailed housing needs assessment which should be maintained and updated throughout their stay.”

Figures from the Department of Corrections suggested that less than half of those released were able to settle into long-term accommodation and roughly 60 percent of former prisoners would be resentenced within two years.

Of those interviewed, three-quarters identified as Māori, 17 percent as women, more than three-quarters had children, and most served sentences of two years or less.

Close to a third of participants reported receiving any support to find housing before being released, with no respondents who were homeowners reporting any assistance to help them keep it.

The report found more than 20 percent did not know where they were going to live after being released and expected they would become homeless.

After they were released, more than half reported it was very hard to find housing.

The study found Māori were 1.7 times more likely to live in unstable housing and 2.4 times more likely to have moved twice or more in the six months after their release.

“This is likely to reflect the difficulties faced by Māori in wider society, including racism and discrimination in rental housing markets, and demonstrates the need for specialist housing support and provision for Māori leaving prison,” Mills said.

Corrections and its partners provide more than 1200 housing places each year which include emergency accommodation, transitional housing and provisions for specific groups.

Most of those programmes supported people who had been in prison for two or more years and not those on shorter sentences, she said.

The report recommended more diverse housing options be available post-release nationwide, and more targeted, culturally appropriate services to help Māori find and keep stable housing after prison.

“And for wāhine who have often experienced abuse within the home, post-release housing should be safe, secure and supported, and provide a place for them to rebuild their relationships with their children,” Mills said.

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