Closing the revolving door between prisons, the justice system and homelessness.

For people who have been in the justice system and prison, homelessness is more common, more likely to reoccur and lasts longer. We must close the revolving door.

How we can close the revolving door between prisons, the justice system and homelessness

Between 2010 and 2020, the number of people imprisoned in Victoria has grown by approximately 57%. From our client and casework insights, we also know that for people who have been in the justice system, homelessness is more common, more likely to reoccur and lasts longer.

For this reason, we need to ensure that where possible, we close the revolving door between prisons, the justice system, and homelessness. Justice Connect sees three priority opportunities to achieve this:

Recommendation 1: Reform bail laws to ensure people experiencing homelessness are able to access bail

Victoria’s current bail laws are having unintended and disproportionate impacts on people facing homelessness, and the State’s remand population continues to grow.

From our work with Victorians experiencing homelessness and facing criminal charges, we see that police are more likely to place a person experiencing homelessness on bail, even for relatively minor offences such as marijuana possession or shop theft. The current bail laws automatically escalate the likelihood that someone will be remanded in prison.

To make sure that more Victorians don’t end up in prison for minor offences, the Bail Act 1977 (Vic) should be amended to provide for a presumption in favour of bail unless there is a specific and immediate risk to the safety of another person. This would directly reduce the growing number of people entering prison for minor offences, when they should be, or could be, in the community.

Recommendation 2: Create a more flexible and tiered approach to Community Correction Orders

Community Correction Orders are a key sentencing option that reduces the number of people being sentenced to imprisonment. However, through our criminal law program, we have seen how difficult it can be for people with complex needs to complete a Community Corrections Order.

For people facing homelessness, there should be scope for an order which considers the need for further supports. Where more intensive supports are required, case managers with lower caseloads, increased training and additional capacity for both outreach and specialised assistance should be available.

Recommendation 3: Prevent homelessness and increase reintegration for people exiting prison

More than half (54%) of people exiting prison expect to be homeless on release from prison. If a person exits prison into homelessness, they are twice as likely to return to prison within the first nine months of release.

Given the current rate of recidivism in Victoria sits at 45.6% and with the cost of incarceration around $118,000 per person every year, maintaining or accessing secure housing with supports is a critical component of tackling Victoria’s growing and costly imprisonment rate.

Our specialist Closing the Revolving Door Prison Project breaks the cycle between imprisonment and homelessness by providing people in prison with tailored, integrated legal supports to ensure access to housing on release. We see first-hand the importance of access to post-release housing in reducing recidivism, particularly by ensuring that people can exit the justice system and better-reintegrate with the community. 69% percent of our Prison Project clients over the last three years had previously experienced homelessness, and 58% had previously been incarcerated. Greater investment in safe, suitable and affordable housing with wrap-around supports would help to stop people from cycling in-and-out of prison when their needs could be better met in the community.

Read our submissions

See our submissions related to preventing the criminalisation of homelessness

Submission to the Victorian Government’s Inquiry into Victoria’s Criminal Justice System (September 2021)Download PDF (875 KB)

Preventing the criminalisation of homelessness

Homelessness is a complex issue that requires systems-level change.

We challenge and change laws that unfairly impact people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

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