Limiting Housing Access Could Increase Inmate Recidivism
Stable housing is necessary to turn former criminals into productive members of society. Unfortunately, there are many barriers that prevent former criminals from finding stable housing. This means they are more likely to go back to a life of crime. This is called recidivism and is a major problem for our country.
Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a highly alarming amendment to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development spending bill for FY 2013. Introduced by U.S. Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA), this amendment makes it harder to find housing for people who are leaving the criminal justice system and trying to integrate themselves back into society. His amendment would prohibit the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) from using any FY 2013 funds for rules that stop people from denying housing to people with criminal convictions.
In plain language, this means that HUD wouldn’t be able to use its power to stop people from denying housing to folks who are leaving the criminal justice system and trying to integrate themselves back into society. This is disappointing because recently there has been much bi-partisan work to reduce recidivism and bring down government criminal justice costs. Criminal justice reform, especially helping former criminals become productive members of society, is something that crosses the ideological divide uniting liberals and conservatives.
Helping former criminals become productive members of society is a top priority for our Gov. Bob McDonnell:
Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) has said that the recidivism rate is still too high for his liking and that Virginia must do more to help offenders be successful upon release. “Reduction in recidivism means fewer victims and less prison costs,” he said in his State of the State address in January. “America is a nation of second chances and those leaving prison should have the opportunity to change.”
McDonnell has appointed a state council to cut recidivism with “collaborative reentry strategies” and has moved to help released prisoners more easily regain voting rights.
Housing is critical to preventing former criminals from returning to a life of crime according to U.S. Housing & Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan:
Research shows that ex-offenders who do not find stable housing in the community are more likely to recidivate than those who do, yet people returning from their communities from prison often face significant barriers to obtaining housing. [...] People who have paid their debt to society deserve the opportunity to become productive citizens and caring parents, to set aside the past and embrace the future. Part of that support means helping ex-offenders gain access to one of the most fundamental building blocks of stable life – a place to live.
Criminal justice reform has become a huge topic across the country because of the large population of inmates in America and the huge costs for federal, state and local governments. If you’re worried about government spending, reducing recidivism must be near the top of your list. According to the Council of State Governments:
Securing housing is one of the most immediate challenges individuals leaving prison face upon their release. Research has shown that the types of living arrangements and neighborhoods to which exiting prisoners return are often related to the likelihood that they will recidivate and return to prison. While many of the formerly incarcerated stay with family members – at least early on, others are confronted by limited housing options. This is especially true for those with mental health or substance abuse problems. Obtaining housing is complicated by a host of factors, including the scarcity of affordable and available housing, legal barriers and regulations, landlords’ prejudices against formerly incarcerated individuals, and strict eligibility requirements for federally subsidized housing.
This amendment should be voted down with bi-partisan opposition because government can’t keep spending money endlessly. We must help former criminals become productive members of society. This will make our communities safer and reduce government spending.