Justice Connect Homeless Law provides legal assistance to Victorians who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
Due to the links between homelessness and incarceration, Homeless Law decided to provide legal help to Victorian prisoners through the Debt and Tenancy Legal Help for Prisoners Project. Drawing on Homeless Law's legal expertise in tenancy, debt and infringements matters, this project aims to prevent homelessness and promote successful reintegration of prisoners by sustaining tenancies and resolving debt.
The Project has so far provided legal representation to 228 prisoners. Sixty two percent of these prisoners had experienced homelessness. There are no other legal services in Victoria that provide expert tenancy legal representation to Victorian prisoners. Unlike a duty lawyer or advice-based model of assistance, which provide one-off advice or representation only, the Project's provision of ongoing legal case work increases the potential to obtain successful outcomes for our clients.
The Project is underpinned by research showing the links between homelessness and imprisonment: 35% of prisoners are homeless prior to entry into prison and, upon release, the rate of homelessness increases to 43%. Furthermore, research demonstrates that ex-prisoners are more than twice as likely to return to prison within nine months of release if they are homeless.
As a result, Homeless Law decided to expand our work with prisoners. In partnership with Corrs Chambers Westgarth and G4S, a monthly legal advice clinic was launched at Port Phillip Prison to provide legal assistance to prisoners.
Aims & objectives
The Project is an innovative, collaborative legal service that aims to prevent homelessness and promote successful reintegration of prisoners by:
- Sustaining tenancies for prisoners; and
- Reducing and resolving debt for prisoners.
Through preventing homelessness and assisting prisoners with their debt issues, the project aims to reduce reoffending for people exiting prison. Our success can be measured in both the number of prisoners assisted, as well as the outcomes of the legal matters, with 228 prisoners assisted to deal with their debts and 118 prisoners assisted with their tenancy matters.
We initially set out to complete a 12 month pilot. Our approach was two-fold: providing legal assistance to prisoners at Port Phillip Prison through a face to face legal clinic, and providing legal assistance to other Victorian prisoners through phone link ups.
Due to the clear demand for the project from prisoners and G4S, as well as the success of the outcomes in our first 12 months, we extended the project for another 12 months thanks to further support from the Ian Potter Foundation which enable us to continue providing ongoing legal assistance to Victorian prisoners.
Building on the initial 12 month pilot, we were able to expand the reach of our service and provide a further 132 Victorian prisoners with legal assistance in the second year of the project with the assistance of our pro bono law firm partners.
The Project has assisted 43 Victorian prisoners to avoid eviction. These 43 people have returned, or will return, to their homes instead of being released from prison into homelessness, representing a cost saving of approximately $1.25 million to the health, justice and welfare systems.
Homeless Law also assisted 29 prisoners to reduce or clear debts to Office of Housing (over $30,000 in debts were waived), which is a significant barrier to prisoners being offered public housing upon their release from prison.
Through the project, Homeless Law provided legal assistance to 228 Victorian prisoners. The expansion of Homeless Law's work in Victorian prisons is a direct result of the project, including our new relationships and visibility amongst organisations operating in Victorian prisons.
We have identified that our tenancy work is having the greatest impact with clear results in prevention of eviction and addressing housing debts. . Accordingly, the main focus of the project going forward will be on tenancy legal issues for Victorian prisoners.
Samantha Sowerwine, Senior Lawyer, Justice Connect
This project was truly exemplary of the Foundation's funding principle and priorities around prevention and sustainability.
Highly preventative in nature, the project allowed 43 inmates to exit the cycle of homelessness. Given their circumstances it would have been almost inevitable that they would homeless once exiting prison.
In terms of future sustainability, the project also clearly provided evidence for very substantial cost savings for the health, justice and welfare systems.
Justice Connect has been at the forefront of homeless prevention for over a decade and the Foundation has been proud to support this innovative project. We are very much looking forward to seeing the project thrive and receive ongoing support from Victorian state government.
Dr Alberto Furlan, Senior Program Manager