Returning Inmates Need ‘A Place to Call Home:’ Study

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Home from prison--and homeless. Photo by Andre Seale/Alamy courtesy Prisoner Reentry Institute

Safe and affordable housing for formerly incarcerated individuals is essential to breaking the “cycle” of homelessness and recidivism that prevents them from rebuilding their lives as productive citizens, according to a report issued Tuesday.

“People who have paid their debt to society should have the chance to reunify with their families and have a home where children can visit or live,” said the report, released by the Prisoner Reentry Institute of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

“Providing a true home for people with criminal justice histories helps families get back together, stay together, and provide support to each other.”

But too often, the report noted, housing discrimination in the private market and regulations that prevent them from living in public housing drive returning inmates to the streets, or to unsafe and overcrowded shelters.

“People living in such (shelters) often have no refrigerator where they can store fresh food,” said the report, entitled A Place to Call Home.

“They can’t hang their clothes in closets in preparation for job interviews or work. They have no secure space to keep their valuables, photographs, or family keepsakes. They have no permanent address for job or school applications.

“Rather than providing the basis for success, these types of shelter more often lead to a cycle of homelessness and repeated jail or prison stays.”

The report was based in part on a day-long conference held last year at John Jay College, co-hosted by the Prisoner Reentry Institute, The Fortune Society, the Corporation for Supportive Housing, and the Supportive Housing Network of New York.

Carl Dukes. Photo courtesy Prisoner Reentry Institute

Carl Dukes, one former inmate quoted in the report, recounted how after being released from prison in New York State after 31 years behind bars, he found himself homeless for several weeks.

“I was forced to carry my heavy bag between three different shelters, despite having recently undergone spinal surgery.”

Dukes said finding housing through New York’s Fortune Society offered him a “safe place to readjust to life in the community.”

According to the report, the lack of housing is one of the critical barriers to successful reentry for the millions of individuals who leave jail or prison in the U.S. every year.

Recommendations to policymakers included:

  • Eliminating landlord discrimination;
  • Reforming policies that exclude public housing tenants after an arrest or conviction;
  • Establishing “creative partnerships” that would enable the development of a wide spectrum of housing that meets the different needs of returning inmates;
  • Strengthening “in-reach” programs at correctional facilities to identify and assess the housing needs of inmates before they are released.

The report also called for more support for “ban the box” initiatives that eliminate questions on previous criminal history from employment applications forms.

“Housing is a fundamental human need that lays the foundation for success in every aspect of our lives,” said the report.

“When we have a home, we have a safe space to lay our head at night, store our personal belongings, a kitchen where we can cook our meals, and a launch pad from which we can seek jobs, attend school, and connect with our friends and family”

Similarly, the report added, “people with past involvement in the justice system need housing in order to reconstruct their lives….as they look for a home, however, they find the doors to housing closed at every turn. “

Helping them find safe, affordable and supportive housing “furthers the shared values that Americans have held dear since the founding of this country,” the report said.

For a press release on the report, please click here. The full report is available here.

This summary was prepared by TCR Executive editor Stephen Handelman. Readers’ comments are welcome.

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