Breaking The Link Between Incarceration And Homelessness In Australia

court house
Court House, Bourke NSW, Australia photo by Ian Sutton is licensed under CC BY 2.0
In Bourke, Australia, justice reinvestment programs have diverted youth away from the court house, pictured here, and the court system.

Toward the end of the 20th century, when people experiencing homelessness became more visible, the programs to help them leave the streets quickly became overwhelmed. People asked, “where did they come from,” and “why do they stay homeless?” As researchers began counting, and then interviewing people who were homeless, all aspects of the corrections system (ie. remand, incarceration, probation, and parole) emerged as a significant pathway. It also showed that people with the longest histories of homelessness first became homeless at a very young age.

As soon as this information became available, community based agencies began to design and implement programs to prevent incarceration among youth. In Australia, Aboriginal people are over-represented in the prison population. Programs introduced there have helped Aboriginal youth to connect with traditional practices and to participate in constructive activities, such as training and education.

The results of the programs have been very promising on a number of measures. Incarceration is down, as is domestic violence. High school graduation is up.

And while the programs have proven successful as pilots, permanent funding has proved elusive. Chris Cunneen, who teaches Criminology at the University of Technology in Sydney, sheds light on why these programs have had such a hard time making headway, despite evidence of their effectiveness.

This article shows one way for academics to engage in public debate, by contributing articles to the media. Cunneen provides important context to understand why funding has been elusive in Australia, which may be similar in other countries. For those looking for programming ideas, the article gives examples of supports the programs offer. People who are looking to fund effective programs will find information about suitable program goals and outcome measures.

Cunneen’s appears in The Conversation: Defunding the police could bring positive change in Australia. These communities are showing the way

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