A study published in the Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences examines housing insecurity and homelessness among former prisoners. The study found high rates of housing insecurity among former prisoners, but low rates of homelessness.
The study was the first to explore different forms of residential instability and homelessness among a representative sample of former prisoners by tracking their residential movements over time. The authors used administrative data compiled from the Michigan Department of Corrections to track 3,681 former prisoners’ residential moves from 2003 to 2009. Residential moves, which the authors equated with housing instability, were categorized by the following types: to a new private residence, to homelessness, to treatment or care, to intermediate sanction, to prison, or to a state of absconding. Intermediate sanctions were defined as “custodial punishments for new crimes or technical violations of parole or probation guidelines that involved incarceration, usually for shorter time periods, in jails or custodial centers that [run] programs for technical rule violators,” while absconding was defined as “being on the run.” “Treatment or care” included moves to residential care facilities for health, mental health, or substance abuse treatment.
The authors found in previous research that these same former prisoners moved an average of 2.6 times per year, which is the highest degree of housing instability among any population group. In the current study, 65.5% of the sample moved due to an intermediate sanction, making it the most common type of move experienced by the former prisoners. Slightly more than 9% of participants experienced homelessness, the least common type of move. (See “Fact of the Week” in this Memo to Members.)
The likelihood of housing instability was greatest in the early weeks of a residency, with half of all observed moves taking place in the first eight weeks. The longer a former prisoner stayed at a particular residence, the less likely he or she was to move. Other risk factors for housing instability included mental illness, drug and alcohol use, and a recent intermediate sanction. Housing instability was reduced by employment, higher wages, and certain living arrangements. Residing with parents or a romantic partner and returning to the residence occupied prior to incarceration were all associated with greater residential stability. Living with friends or other family members, however, increased housing instability.
The study identifies several policy implications. The authors suggest that policies promoting residential stability in the first weeks following reentry may play a critical role in reducing future housing instability. The authors recommend that the unintended consequences of intermediate sanctions be considered before they are imposed on parolees. Even though these measures are often meant as an alternative to prison, the housing instability caused by intermediate sanctions may put former prisoners at greater risk for recidivism.
Finally, current policy allows public housing authorities to prohibit families from housing a family member with a felony record. This policy could be counterproductive, given that a former prisoner residing with parents or a romantic partner is less likely to experience housing instability. If a former prisoner resided in public housing prior to incarceration, such policies could increase the risk of housing instability because they prevent him or her from returning home. NLIHC advocates in support of the Fair Chance at Housing Act (H.R. 5085), which would help mitigate discriminatory public housing policies that screen out people with criminal records (see Memo 05/02/16).
Homelessness and Housing Insecurity Among Former Prisoners is available at: http://bit.ly/29QPtBR