Many prisoners have ongoing issues with housing and debts, both before and after release. Without legal help to resolve these issues, prisoners are at greater risk of homelessness and, as a consequence, ending up back in prison. That’s why we started our tenancy legal help for prisoners project.
There is a high level of debt and financial disadvantage in the Australian prison population. These debts commonly include debts to the Department of Housing, Centrelink and Child Support Agency, and most commonly, fine debt. 88% of prisoners need Centrelink after prison, making it incredibly difficult for them to resolve their debts upon release.
That’s where Justice Connect comes in. We’ve been working with prisoners to help sustain their tenancies and manage their debts, so they can start a brighter life after release.
In 2014, the Ian Potter Foundation provided us with two years of funding to act on our research into prisoner’s legal needs. We started an innovative pilot project at Port Phillip Prison, drawing on our network of pro bono partners. A monthly outreach clinic, staffed by pro bono lawyers, provided legal assistance to prisoners across tenancy, credit and debt and infringements matters.
After the success of the pilot project, Justice Connect now helps prisoners across Victoria. We provide free legal help to people who are at risk of losing their tenancies while they’re in prison or have outstanding debts to previous landlords, which prevent them from being offered housing on an ongoing basis.
The aim of this work is to provide legal assistance to a vulnerable client group that have a high level of unmet legal need. By helping prisoners sustain housing and manage old housing debts, we hope to prevent further homelessness and incarceration.
We provide legal help to prisoners in most Victorian prisons. Currently, our focus is on tenancy issues to avoid people getting evicted while in prison. We also deal with housing debts owed to previous landlords (particularly the Office of Housing), which may prevent prisoners from finding new housing after release.