To support people after incarceration, focus on housing

Stable and safe housing provides benefits for formerly incarcerated people, including helping them maintain sobriety and mental health, but securing post-incarceration housing is a pervasive challenge, researchers say. (Credit: Getty Images)

To support people who have been incarcerated and to reduce recidivism, policymakers and re-entry programs need to prioritize housing, according to a new study.

While previous research shows stable and safe housing provides benefits for formerly incarcerated people, including helping them maintain sobriety and mental health, securing post-incarceration housing is a pervasive challenge.

The new study was conducted as part of an evaluation of the Second Chance Act program funded by the National Institute of Justice.

The researchers interviewed 31 people who were three months to three years post-incarceration and analyzed the results. While participants came from three different geographical regions of the United States, commonalities were seen across barriers that formerly incarcerated people face in securing safe and stable housing.

Key financial housing barriers:

  • Despite differences in housing markets, housing affordability was uniformly a challenge.
  • Housing affordability was exacerbated by difficulty in securing a job or finding a job with livable wages or high enough required income.
  • Other financial requirements, like deposits and a positive credit history, further complicated securing housing.

Key non-financial housing barriers:

  • Involvement in the criminal legal system substantially limits housing options.
  • Prohibitive paperwork requirements combined with inflexible timing of parole meetings made securing help with paperwork challenging.
  • Conditions of parole or probation may limit where individuals can live.
  • Many leave incarceration without necessary birth certificates, Social Security cards, or other identification needed for securing housing.

Participants noted that while re-entry programs provided valuable assistance in overcoming some of these barriers by offering housing recommendations, existing relationships with landlords, and budgeting and financial help, affordability and housing shortages persist.

The current housing challenges faced by formerly incarcerated individuals parallels broader employment, income, poverty, and housing-access issues the country faces as a whole, the researchers write.

Yet there is tremendous opportunity for development of innovative solutions that will have real-world impact by cross-sector partners on the ground, as well as by federal policymakers in the justice and housing sectors.

The study was published by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development in Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research.

Source: Georgia State University