Finding “home” for those who leave prison

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A word from our Acting CEO, Brad Webb:

I was struck by a recent article in  The Conversation about the revolving door many people are caught in as they go back and forth between prison and homelessness. The article highlights how people experiencing homelessness are over-represented in Australia’s prisons and previously incarcerated people are over-represented among those who are homeless. The author points to stable housing as key to breaking the cycle.

Speaking with some of the team at Samaritans Post Release services, they shared with me some of the experiences of the people they support as they are coming out of prison. Some people they support have had housing issues before they enter prison but almost all of those they see after being released have housing as their number one priority. And it’s incredibly hard to find.

Last year, Anglicare Australia released the State of the Family Report exploring the importance of home, rather than just housing, to the people in our communities. The stories and essays in this report included contributions from Samaritans services, notably that of Kell who had been supported through Samaritans Post Release service Recovery Point. Kell had spent most of his life either on the streets or in prison and Samaritans supported him to find temporary and then permanent housing in the Newcastle area.

Rob from Samaritans Recovery Point said, “Something we always talk about with the guys is the lack of support for them when it comes to housing and accommodation. A lot of essential things need to be done when someone comes out of prison, like applying for a birth certificate, ID and housing, and it should really be done while they’re inside. Getting a housing application to go live in the system takes about 4 weeks, imagine if that was done before the person is released; these little things make a big difference.”

For over 25 years, Samaritans Post Release services have worked with people leaving prison, helping them to re-establish their lives ‘on the outside’. These programs boast remarkable success in reducing the rate of reoffending. There is powerful evidence that with support to find housing and work after coming out of prison, someone is much more likely to stay out of prison, contribute to society, and enjoy a fulfilling life.

In our local area, Cessnock jail recently opened their new 400-bed, maximum-security centre as part of the NSW Government’s $3.8 billion program to address the state’s rising prison population. Mid North Coast Correctional Centre is expected to begin construction on its expansion of a similar size in the coming months. From this we can only expect to see an increasing impact on local support services as greater numbers of people come out of prison with nowhere to call home.

The Anglicare Australia report also identified the value of ‘open door’ community services where people can go for support when then need it. Samaritans operates the Cessnock Information and Neighbourhood Centre, offering a gamut of support services with an ‘open door’ approach. Last time Cessnock jail was expanded (2012), the Neighbourhood Centre team in Cessnock experienced a significant spike in intake, so we need to consider the effect of this influx of inmates on the community and capacity of support programs to meet the needs of those who are vulnerable.

Our work with prisons continues to be an area of great challenge to Samaritans, with prison expansions just one of our concerns. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continue to be over-represented in the prison population, and I was concerned recently to read the Human Rights Watch report into abuse and neglect of prisoners with disabilities.

However, as challenging as this work is, for the team at Post Release it continues to be one of great satisfaction. Samaritans will continue to advocate for more to be done to invest in community supports for people before they enter the criminal justice system, as well as programs to help reintegrate those leaving prison so they have a place to call ‘home’.