Homelessness in the State and Federal Prison Population

Crim Behav Ment Health. 2008;18(2):88-103. doi: 10.1002/cbm.685.


Aims: This study sought to investigate the rates and correlates of homelessness (i.e. living on the street or in a homeless shelter), including mental illness, among US adult state and federal prison inmates (ASFPIs).

Method: Data from a national survey of ASFPIs based on a random sampling survey (N = 17,565) were used to compare the homelessness rate among AFSPIs with that in the general population. Logistic regression was then used to examine the association of homelessness among ASFPIs with factors including symptoms, treatment of mental illness, previous criminal justice involvement, specific crimes, and demographic characteristics.

Results: Nine percent of ASFPIs reported an episode of homelessness in the year prior to arrest, 4-6 times the estimated rate in the general US adult population after allowing for age, race/ethnicity, and gender. In comparison to other inmates, these homeless inmates were more likely to be currently incarcerated for a property crime, but also to have had previous criminal justice system involvement for both property and violent crimes, to suffer from mental health and/or substance abuse problems, and to be more likely to have been unemployed and with a low income.

Conclusions: Recent homelessness is far more common among ASFPIs than the general population. Prior incarceration, mental illness, substance abuse and disadvantageous socio-demographic characteristics were all found to be associated with homelessness among prison inmates, suggesting that there are several important factors in addition to efforts to survive with limited resources through criminal acts that influence the rates of homelessness among incarcerated individuals.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Crime / statistics & numerical data
  • Federal Government*
  • Homeless Persons / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Prisons / statistics & numerical data*
  • State Government*
  • United States / epidemiology