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

For people who have been in the criminal justice system, homelessness is more common, more likely to reoccur and lasts longer. We must break the cycle.

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

Over the past five years in Victoria, there has been a 50% increase in the number of women in prison, and a 240% increase of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. From our client and casework insights, we also know that for people who have been in the criminal justice system, homelessness is more common, more likely to reoccur and lasts longer.

For this reason, we need to ensure that where possible, we break the cycle 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 experiencing or at risk of 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 minor offences such as marijuana possession or shop theft. The current bail laws automatically escalate the likelihood that someone will be remanded in prison, even for very minor offences.

To ensure that more people 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. In addition, reclassification of certain indictable offences related to survival and/or poverty to summary offences including shop thefts and offences relating to alcohol and other drug use  would invite a different response that is properly directed towards diversion and rehabilitation. These proposed changes would directly reduce the risk of further criminalisation through a disproportionately-punitive sentencing process.

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

Through our criminal law program, we have seen how difficult it can be for people with complex needs to complete a Community Corrections Order (CCO). Given the limited number of sentencing options available, CCOs are a key option that reduces the number of people being sentenced to imprisonment. However, as it stands, the CCO system is inflexible and rigid in meeting the needs of Victorians experiencing homelessness.

For people experiencing or at risk of 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. More therapeutic programs such as Wulgunggo Ngalu (a CCO program for First Nations men) should also be expanded to First Nations women, people seeking drug and alcohol rehabilitation, perpetrators of family violence and victim-survivors of family violence.

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 former prisoners exit 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, holistic 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 criminal justice system and better-reintegrate with the community. 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

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.

See more of our campaigns

Illustration showing a middle aged woman of colour standing behind her two younger sons, affectionately placing her hand on one their shoulders