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Homelessness and Prisoner Re-Entry, BJA, 2006

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strategies for addressing housing needs and risks in prisoner re-entry

Homelessness and
Prisoner Re-Entry
An unprecedented number of people are coming out of
prison and jail.

• Each year, more than 650,000 people are released from state
prisons in the United States, and an estimated nine million
are released from jails.1, 2

Many people released from prison or jail are at risk for
homelessness, which can increase the likelihood that
they will commit new crimes and return to prison.

• The number of people released from prison has increased
350 percent over the last 20 years.3

• More than 10 percent of those coming in and out of prisons and jail are homeless in the months before their incarceration. For those with mental illness, the rates are even
higher—about 20 percent. One study found that 22 percent
of jailed inmates in New York City reported being homeless
the night before arrest.5

• During the same time period, the number of people who
are homeless has swelled dramatically, to the current level
of up to 850,000 people on any given day.4
• Most released individuals return to major metropolitan areas
across the country, often to a few neighborhoods within central cities. In Wichita in 2004, for example, people released
to parole supervision returned to, and sought housing in,
just a few neighborhoods. Twenty-eight percent of parolees
reside in City Council District 1 alone.
parolees per 1,000 residents in wichita (ks)

• The California Department of Corrections reports that at
any given time 10 percent of the state’s parolees are homeless, and in major urban areas such as San Francisco and
Los Angeles, the percentage of parolees who are homeless
is as high as 30 to 50 percent.6
• 49 percent of homeless adults have reportedly spent five or
more days in a city or county jail over their lifetimes, and 18
percent have been incarcerated in a state or federal prison,
according to a 1996 HUD study.7
• Shelter use, both before incarceration and after release, is
associated with an increased risk of return to prison: in a
study of 50,000 individuals who were released from New
York State prisons and returned to New York City between
1995 and 1998, the risk of re-incarceration increased 23 percent with pre-release shelter stay, and 17 percent with postrelease shelter stay.8
• A qualitative study by the Vera Institute of Justice found
that people released from prison and jail to parole, who entered homeless shelters in New York City, were seven times
more likely to abscond during the first month after release
than those who had some form of housing.9

Produced by: Justice Mapping Center, 2006
Data source: Kansas Department of Corrections, December 2004

This document was prepared by the Council of State Governments under grant number 2005RE-CX-K002, awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S.
Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in
this document are those of the authors and do not represent the official position or policies of the
U.S. Department of Justice. Additional support for this project was provided by the Robert Wood
Johnson Foundation.
Katherine Brown
Council of State Governments
tel: (646) 383-5722

homelessness and prisoner re-entry

State and local budgets cannot sustain spending
on shelter and emergency costs to serve increasing
numbers of people who are homeless; long-term housing
solutions can decrease the costs associated with people
who would otherwise become homeless, such as people
released from prison and jail.

• In New York, it costs more than $32,000 per year to serve
a single person who stays in homeless shelters and returns
to prison. Hospitalizations and child welfare involvement
drive this price tag even higher.10
• Prison and jail are among the most expensive settings to
serve people who are homeless: one nine-city study calculated median daily costs for prison and jail at $59.43 and
$70.00 respectively, compared with $30.48 for supportive
• Supportive housing has been documented to drastically reduce criminal justice involvement, reducing jail incarceration rates up to 30 percent and prison incarceration rates up
to 57 percent.12
• According to a cost analysis by the Corporation for Supportive Housing, a single re-entry housing unit in New York used
by two people over one year can save $20,000 to $24,000 relative to the cost of release to shelter and re-incarceration.13
Organizations have developed different housing
interventions to prevent homelessness and promote
independence and self-sufficiency among re-entering
offenders in several states.

St. Leonard’s Ministries and
Lakefront SRO (Single Room Occupancy) work in partnership
to provide second-stage housing and support services to men
released from prison to the Chicago area, who have graduated
from St. Leonard’s short-term re-entry programs. St. Andrew’s
Court comprises 42 affordable housing units for single men
with a range of risks and needs. Funding partners include the
Illinois Housing Development Authority, the City of Chicago’s
St. Andrew’s Court (Chicago, IL):

1. The number of people released from state prisons each year been
steadily increasing—from slightly more than 600,000 in 2000 to more
than 670,000 in 2004. See Paige M. Harrison and Allen J. Beck, “Prison and
Jail Inmates at Midyear 2005,” US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice
Statistics (Washington, DC: 2006), NCJ 213133.
2. The jail numbers (2004) were provided by Allen J. Beck, “The Importance
of Successful Reentry to Jail Population Growth” (presentation at The Jail
Reentry Roundtable of the Urban Institute, Washington, DC, June 27, 2006).
3. James P. Lynch and William J. Sabol, Prisoner Reentry in Perspective,
Washington, DC: The Urban Institute, September 2001.
4. Martha R. Burt et al., Homelessness: Programs and the People They Serve:
Findings From the National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients,
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (Washington, DC:
1999), cited in Stephen Métraux and Dennis P. Culhane, “Homeless Shelter
Use and Reincarceration Following Prison Release: Assessing the Risk,”
Criminology & Public Policy 3, no. 2 (2004): 201–222.
5. Métraux and Culhane; David Michaels et al., “Homelessness and
indicators of mental illness among inmates in New York City’s correctional
system.” Hospital and Community Psychiatry 43 (2002):150–155.

Department of Housing, the Illinois Department of Corrections,
the Federal Home Loan Bank, and various foundations. St.
Leonard’s provides an array of case-management services, and
a self-governed Residents’ Council meets regularly.
Alliance Apartments
offers 100 permanent, affordable housing efficiency apartments and 24 transitional housing units, where residents may
stay for up to two years, for homeless, single adult men and
women who make a commitment to work, remain chemicalfree, and live in a drug-free community. Although Alliance
Apartments doesn’t include units specifically designated for
formerly incarcerated individuals, many tenants have recently
been released from jail or prison. On-site staff from partner
organization RS Eden provide case management, counseling, peer support networks, social and recreational events,
and linkages to mental health services as well as education,
training and work programs, and work on an informal basis
with parole officers and supervision agents. In 1995, Alliance
Housing received 100 Section 8 Certificates to create affordable housing; RS Eden received a state grant through the Department of Corrections to provide support services to people
coming out of incarceration.
Alliance Apartments (Minneapolis, MN):

The Fortune Academy, a
residential facility in West Harlem opened in 2002, provides
18 emergency and 41 longer-term beds and access to the Fortune Society’s array of supportive services. Prospective clients
must be formerly incarcerated, homeless, pose no current
risk of violence, and have an interest in and be appropriate
for the services being provided. Residents of the Academy are
required to provide 10 hours of service to the house and attend weekly house meetings. Although sobriety is not a requirement for placement in the housing facility, residents
must demonstrate motivation to become sober. Individuals in
emergency housing often go on to live at the Academy longterm. The duration of long-term housing is determined on an
individual basis. Generally residents live in housing between
six months to a year—until they have stabilized and can be
linked to permanent housing, which is often coordinated by
Fortune’s housing specialists.
Fortune Academy (New York, NY):

6. California Department of Corrections, Prevention Parolee Failure Program:
An Evaluation (Sacramento, CA: California Department of Corrections, 1997).

Burt et al.

8. Métraux and Culhane.
9. Marta Nelson, Perry Deess, and Charlotte Allen, The First Month Out:
Post-Incarceration Experiences in New York City (New York, NY: Vera Institute of
Justice, 1999).
10. Corporation for Supportive Housing, “Re-entry housing promotes public safety while saving public dollars,” cost analysis based on data provided
by the New York State Division of Parole, 2006.
11. The Lewin Group. 2004. “Costs of Serving Homeless Individuals in Nine
Cities.” Chart Book Report. New York, NY: Corporation for Supportive Housing.
12. Dennis P. Culhane et al. “Public Service Reductions Associated with
Placement of Homeless Persons with Severe Mental Illness in Supportive
Housing,” in Housing Policy Debate, Vol. 13, Issue 1. Fannie Mae Foundation.
13. Corporation for Supportive Housing.



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