Criminal Justice Reform

Our national data shows that the number of Americans caught in a revolving door between the streets, shelters, and jails may reach the tens of thousands.

Roughly 48,000 people entering shelters every year are coming nearly directly from prisons or jails. Of the 11 million people detained or incarcerated in jails every year, as many as 15% report having been homeless.

The Solution

While homelessness has many causes, some of which have to do with larger economic forces, it is also caused and exacerbated by the policy choices we make in our communities and as a nation. When communities pursue policies that criminalize homelessness, when we severely punish people for minor drug possession or for assault charges related to mental health decompensation, or when we fail to adequately assist people leaving jails or prisons to obtain housing, services, and employment, we contribute to and worsen the problem of homelessness, particularly unsheltered homelessness

Recognizing the role that federal leadership can play in breaking this cycle, the Council is pursuing steps to reduce criminal justice system involvement among people experiencing homelessness, both by reducing the criminalization of homelessness and the return of people from correctional settings to homelessness. Specific action areas include:

  • Continuing efforts to combat the criminalization of homelessness
  • Increasing the training of law enforcement around interacting with people exhibiting psychiatric symptoms
  • Increasing access to jail diversion and alternatives to incarceration
  • Expanding evidence-based housing and services solutions like supportive housing for people caught in a cycle of homelessness and incarceration
  • Reducing barriers to housing, employment, and services for people with criminal histories