In 2014, nearly 4,800 people returned to Alameda County from state prisons, while on any given day an estimated 3,200 people were in the county jail. Approximately 375,000 (one out of four) people in the county have a criminal record, and about 20,000 of them are at risk of losing the roofs over their heads because of it.
The Long Road Home: Decreasing Barriers to Public Housing for People with Criminal Records analyzed formerly incarcerated people and found that the lack of stable housing negatively affects health and access to healthcare services, employment opportunities, family reunification, and recidivism. Moreover, when formerly incarcerated people change their residence, the odds of re-offending increased at least 70 percent.
Multiple studies show that the sooner people find stable housing after release, the less likely they are to recidivate.
“When individuals are released from prisons and jails, their ability to access safe, secure and affordable housing is critical to their successful re-entry to society,” the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reported on April 4. “Yet many formerly incarcerated individuals, as well as individuals who were convicted but not incarcerated, encounter significant barriers to securing housing, including public and other federally-subsidized housing, because of their criminal history,”
HUD also recognized that current criminal record screening policies by landlords might be in violation of the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race and other protected classes.
Collateral Consequences of Racial Politics in America
The Long Road Home cites American institutions that have maintained racist policies against Blacks, including slavery; Jim Crow laws enforcing racial segregation and disenfranchisement of Blacks; and post-Civil War Black Codes that restricted Blacks’ freedom and forced work in a labor economy based on low wages or debts.
The consequence of these historical trends gave rise to deep and persistent inequities in the criminal justice system resulting in people of color being disproportionately represented at higher rates at all stages of the criminal justice system, from arrest to pretrial detention, sentencing and confinement.
Additional evidence of racial politics in America comes from John Ehrlichman, former domestic policy chief for President Richard Nixon:
“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be against the war (Vietnam) or Black(s), but by getting the public to associate hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news.”
Just the Facts
An estimated 2.2 million U.S. citizens are incarcerated, and 100 million adults have a criminal record. Seventy-nine percent of people who had been incarcerated were either ineligible or denied public housing as a result of criminal history.
The Long Road Home’s research on the relationship of criminal history and housing tenancy shows:
1) people with criminal histories are not poor tenants; and
2) criminal history exclusion policies lead to housing instability and the likelihood of criminal activity.
Another study found no statistical difference between formerly incarcerated individuals and those who have never been incarcerated staying in supportive housing programs successfully.
A study of people awaiting release from prison showed that 67 percent either did not know or responded with an incorrect answer when asked if they could legally return to public housing.
Therefore, public housing authorities (PHAs) should provide explicit language on the types of mitigating circumstances accepted, the importance of providing supporting evidence and how to incorporate the evidence into the application process.
“…ability to access safe, secure and affordable housing is critical to their successful re-entry to society”
If PHAs allowed mitigating circumstances to be presented in the initial application, the study states it would result in fewer applications denied because of a criminal history and a better-streamlined process.
The Long Road Home predicts that presenting mitigating circumstances upfront would likely result in more people with a criminal history being housed, getting jobs, and reuniting with family, as well as decreased recidivism.
Finally, HUD should require PHAs to collect, track and publicly report the race and ethnicity of applicants and those screened out due to their criminal history to examine the potential impact of screening policies on people of color with a criminal history.