Prisoner Release Accommodation

(Question Time, Legislative Assembly, Parliament House)

Mr ALEX GREENWICH (Sydney) (15:32:16): My question is directed to the Minister for Counter Terrorism, Minister for Corrections, and Minister for Veteran Affairs. Given that thousands of prisoners leave prisons homeless or at risk of homelessness every year, will the Government ensure homelessness services have access to all prisons to develop pre-release plans to ensure that all those at risk of homelessness can get back on their feet with a safe roof over their head?

Mr DAVID ELLIOTT (Baulkham HillsMinister for Counter Terrorism, Minister for Corrections, and Minister for Veterans Affairs) (15:32:38): I thank the member for Sydney for his question. The member and I have had a number of private conversations about this issue and I am genuinely happy that he has such an interest. I share his concerns about access to safe accommodation as an option to reduce reoffending. I am pleased to report that the Government, through Corrective Services, offers a number of pathways to assist offenders to source secure accommodation upon their release from custody. These pathways include programs in custody, complemented by services run in partnership with Housing NSW and non-government and not‑for‑profit organisations.

The first day someone enters custody needs to be the first day we plan for their release, be it through programs to address offending and addictions, providing education and training to help inmates access work and ensuring inmates have a stable place to live on release. Addressing an inmate's accommodation needs must not be left until their impending release. That is why Corrective Services has two inmate screening processes—an intake screening questionnaire and information sharing protocols with Housing NSW. A notification of incarceration process notifies Housing NSW when a tenant or applicant enters custody. It affords the inmate an opportunity to maintain a relationship with Housing NSW, including the capacity to maintain a tenancy for up to six months. The notification process facilitates the placement of inmates as priority applicants on release.

Corrective Services provides a range of initiatives and programs that minimise the risk of homelessness of offenders following release from custody or sentence, including the time that they may be on parole. The programs are the Nexus Program, which takes an offender-centred approach to reintegration and commences when a person enters custody. Under this program, Corrections staff assist inmates to plan their release, including their accommodation needs. While inmates are incarcerated they have access to the legal portal developed by the prisoner legal information team, which includes a going home module, which outlines such topics as accommodation, social security and Centrelink. It is well known that a significant number of inmates access Centrelink and many recipients are given those payments for rental assistance.

Corrective Services funds a partnership initiative, which provides funding to not‑for‑profit non‑government organisations to deliver a range of services that support reintegration into the community. Since 2014 this Government has invested $17.2 million in these initiatives. The Transitional Support Accommodation service provides up to 12 weeks of supported accommodation as well as outreach support. The beds are dedicated for higher risk offenders who require additional or more in-depth support. Of particular interest to the member for Sydney and the member for Balmain would be that those services include two settlements in Glebe. The initial transition service links our Community Corrections officers with non-government organisations to provide up to 12 weeks support for higher risk offenders while under the supervision of Community Corrections. This includes access to accommodation. In February 2018 the service was expanded to include an additional 12 locations around the State.

The extended reintegration service is a partnership developed by Corrective Services, Housing, mental health services and the South Western Sydney Local Health District and it also provides support services to offenders with significant complex needs in the Bankstown, Fairfield and Liverpool areas. Under this program, offenders who are homeless or who are at risk of homelessness are provided with 12 months support, which includes up to three months pre-release engagement and up to nine months post-release engagement. Corrective Services also provides additional transition support services that include Set to Go, which is a collaboration between a link to home and Corrections that provides pre-booked accommodation to eligible inmates who are being released imminently. Emergency accommodation funding, which the New South Wales Drug Summit provides funding for, is emergency and crisis accommodation of up to three days for offenders who are under the supervision of Community Corrections.

Residential facilities, such as the Community Corrections operations at Campbelltown and Long Bay, provide up to three months supported accommodation for a small number of offenders to assist with transition from custody to community. They are facilities of last resort and are often most used for offenders with no other accommodation options. I conclude by saying that Corrective Services recognises the risk of homelessness associated with release. We are constantly working to ensure that inmates are released into stable housing through inmate programs, education, prison infrastructure or reintegration support services. I am very proud of this Government's continued investment in community safety and a reduction of reoffending. For that reason, I am very grateful that the member for Sydney has an interest in this topic.