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Action Points: Four Steps to Expand Access to Housing for People in the Justice System with Behavioral Health Needs

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2021
6 pages

This issue of “Action Points” identifies four steps state leaders should take to increase housing opportunities and improve justice and health outcomes for those with criminal records, notably Black and Latinx persons, who face higher rates of incarceration and homelessness than the general population.


The first step is to develop a structured collaboration among the justice, housing/homeless assistance, and health/behavioral health systems. This is essential for maximizing the limited resources of each domain and the effective matching of housing to the needs of various populations. Action steps are proposed for states in ensuring effective cross-sector representation in the key planning bodies for each system, as well as the formalization of collaboration mechanisms to achieve shared goals. In addition, regular cross-system training should be facilitated  to prepare staff to meet housing and service needs. A second major task addressed is risk screening  that enables discharge planners for jails and prisons to focus on people with the highest risk of homelessness after release. By conducting regular housing needs assessments, staff can connect people with housing that best meets their needs. This can be facilitated by designing and implementing screening and assessment tools, the integration of these assessments into existing workflows for use statewide, and by publicly reporting on homelessness risk and housing need among the prison and jail populations. The third proposed step is to make systematic connections among the justice, housing, and behavioral health system to ensure people do not exit incarceration into homelessness. Technical assistance and financial support should be provided for the establishment and maintenance of Homeless Outreach Teams that develop and maintain the promotion and services for housing those at risk of homelessness. The fourth step is increase housing options, including housing development and rental assistance.

Date Published: October 1, 2021