Journal of Quantitative Criminology

, Volume 35, Issue 4, pp 855–887 | Cite as

Homelessness and Incarceration: A Reciprocal Relationship?

  • Julie MoschionEmail author
  • Guy Johnson
Original Paper



Examine whether exits from incarceration lead to homelessness and whether homelessness leads to incarceration.


This paper uses a unique longitudinal dataset which follows disadvantaged Australians over 2.5 years and provides very detailed information on their housing circumstances. Although studies consistently report a positive association between incarceration and homelessness, little is known about the causal relationship between them. We advance in that direction by exploiting the longitudinal dimension of our data in two ways: (i) employing individual fixed effects models to deal with time-invariant unobserved heterogeneity; (ii) lagging key independent variables to minimise reverse causality issues.


Our results show that homelessness does not increase the risk of incarceration. In contrast, incarceration does increase the probability that an individual will become homeless, but not immediately. Exploiting details of the accommodation calendar 1-24 months after release, we find a modest immediate effect of incarceration on homelessness (a 3 percentage points increase), which increases 6 months after release (to around 12 percentage points) and persists for a further 11 months with respondents most often staying in precarious housing arrangements (boarding houses or with friends with no alternative) rather than becoming literally homelessness.


Our study shows the importance of having adequate coverage for post-release programs to break the link between incarceration and homelessness. Specifically, we find that the critical period for ex-inmates starts 6 months after release suggesting that this may be the time when support programs are currently lacking and would be most efficient.


Homelessness Precarious housing Incarceration Longitudinal data 



This paper uses data from the Journeys Home study, which was initiated and is funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services (DSS), and is managed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research (Melbourne Institute). The findings and views in this paper should not however be attributed to either the DSS or the Melbourne Institute. The authors would like to thank Marah Curtis, Amanda Geller, Stephen Metraux and Dan O’Flaherty for useful comments and suggestions on earlier drafts.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social ResearchThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Life Course Centre, ARC Centre of Excellence for Children and Families Over the Life CourseMelbourneAustralia
  3. 3.IZABonnGermany
  4. 4.Unison Housing Research LabRMIT UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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