Access to safe and secure housing is a fundamental human right. It provides a solid foundation for a person’s health, wellbeing and agency, and helps build more productive and cohesive communities. Across Australia, however, it is estimated that approximately one in seven people who have been in prison need assistance from a specialist homelessness service when they re-enter the community.
When people who leave prison don’t have a safe and secure place to live, it’s significantly more challenging for them to gain employment, attend appointments and stay away from drugs and alcohol – all important influences that can reduce reoffending. Housing can be the difference between whether a person will return to prison or get their life back on track. Australian research has confirmed this, with one study finding that when people had unstable accommodation upon leaving prison, they were three times more likely to return to prison within just nine months.
Australia’s prison population has risen significantly over the past decade, notwithstanding a slight decline in numbers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In June 2020, there were 40,000 people in prison with nearly 60 per cent having been in prison before.
Prisons are expensive, costing Australian taxpayers $120,450 per person in prison each year. But the greatest cost of imprisonment is on the lives of individuals and families who are directly affected. Prisons are often traumatic environments that separate people from homes, families, and communities, compounding pre-existing disadvantage and increasing the need for support. Jesuit Social Services believes that prison should only ever be used as a last resort.