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News Release

June 20, 2007

Incarceration Often Leads to Homelessness, Prof Finds

Inmates are often released from jail with no other choice but to live on the streets or in homeless shelters because of a lack of discharge planning and support from the institutions, says a U of G sociologist.

Out of the sample of more than 100 male inmates and releasees interviewed, Prof. Bill O’Grady found that at least half had experienced homelessness.

“There is a direct relationship between incarceration and homelessness,” said O’Grady, who worked on the study with Steve Gaetz of York University’s faculty of education and John Howard Society of Ontario researchers. “It’s a vicious cycle. Homelessness can lead to incarceration, and incarceration can lead to homelessness.”

Funded by the National Homelessness Initiative, O’Grady and Gaetz conducted a study including interviews with convicts incarcerated in provincial jails. It also involved interviews with inmates who had recently been released and were living with friends, had found their own accommodations or were living on the streets. About 28 per cent of all the participants in the study didn’t have their own home before their arrest.

O’Grady said half of the people interviewed reported that they didn’t receive any type of help in preparing for their return to society. The province does have a mandate to promote successful reintegration including in-prison discharge planning, but for whatever reason, “there is a lack of congruence between policy and practice,” he said.

“If inmates don’t receive discharge planning, they are released from jail without housing, without employment and without a lot of family support. Sometimes all they have are the coveralls they are wearing and a bus token. They end up turning to crime just to survive.”

The inmates interviewed who did receive discharge planning often received the service as part of their addiction counselling program, “which means if you don’t see an addiction counsellor, you lose your chance of getting lined up with housing,” he said.

O’Grady said the system is also failing those who haven’t been convicted but are waiting months in custody for their next court date. This group makes up 60 per cent of jail populations in Ontario, and they aren’t even entitled to discharge planning unless they are eventually convicted and serve time. After spending months behind bars, these people often lose their home and face the possibility of living on the streets, he said.

In addition to housing, discharge planning can involve setting inmates up with welfare, finding them a source of employment, connecting them with family or giving them clothing, transportation and money for food, he said.

As part of the report to the National Homelessness Initiative, O’Grady recommends the government put measures in place to ensure that all inmates receive discharge planning before their release date. He also recommends that discharge planning be extended to people who are not convicted but kept in custody for months awaiting their court date.

“It’s in the best interest of the public,” he said. “They are eventually going to get out, and if they get out with little or no discharge planning, then a lot of them will end up reoffending.”

Bill O’Grady
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Home number 416-657-1404

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