Supported accommodation services for released offenders in New Zealand - a review
National Manager, Community Partnerships, Department of Corrections
Senior Adviser, Community Partnerships, Department of Corrections
Diane joined the Department of Corrections in October 2000, managing programmes and interventions in the Wellington regional prisons. She has since held positions in Community Corrections, prisons and national office. Diane has a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) from the University of Natal (Pietermaritzburg), and a Higher Diploma of Teaching from the University of Stellenbosch (South Africa).
Madeline joined the Department of Corrections in early 2013 as a business analyst for the Case Management Service Design team at National Office. She has degrees in Law and Human Geography from the University of Otago and has completed a Master of Laws, majoring in Human Rights, at the University of Auckland.
Accommodation is a primary barrier for successful reintegration of offenders on release from prison both in New Zealand and in international jurisdictions (O’Leary, 2013). However, evidence suggests that stable accommodation can reduce recidivism rates significantly (Social Exclusion Unit, 2002; Baldry, McDonnell, Maplestone & Peeters, 2006). State intervention in the provision of various types of supported accommodation is increasing internationally (Cooper, 2016; Mills, Gojkovic, Meek, & Mullins, 2013).
Stable housing allows an ex-offender to engage in a routine in a safe environment, to build positive social networks, and ultimately reintegrate into the community in a sustainable way.
Many prisoners face barriers to their successful reintegration into the community and it is these barriers, along with public safety, that the New Zealand Department of Corrections has identified as a key priority for a better co-ordinated response. One of the biggest challenges for ex-offenders is finding somewhere suitable to live.
Barriers around accommodation may include:
- returning to a low socio-economic community that already experiences higher crime rates and a shortage of affordable housing
- a landlord’s reluctance to offer tenancy agreements to those with previous convictions
- community safety concerns
- a history of mental illness or substance abuse that inhibits their ability to cope with a job and subsequently their ability to afford stable housing.
This article looks at what Corrections has done to date to support offenders to address their housing needs shortly after release from prison.
Corrections has combined other services alongside stable accommodation in its design of transitional housing post-release. Finding employment, addressing health concerns, and countering social isolation are all critical components of an offender’s release plan. As a result, these services have emerged in recent years and are now seen as essential for New Zealand’s most vulnerable individuals.
Since 2005, the department has provided transitional accommodation for long-serving (sentences greater than two years) offenders through contracts with a small number of non-government organisations. The first service providers were selected following a successful supported accommodation trial in 2004.
The service initially provided 54 spaces or “beds” across the country at a cost of approximately $1.0m annually and operated in the main locations such as Auckland, Hamilton, Napier/Hastings (from 2009), Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.
The supported accommodation service was originally designed for long-serving high-risk offenders with complex re-integrative needs. Interim housing and support was provided for up to 13 weeks, with assistance to move into independent accommodation. A further 13 weeks “in tenancy” support was provided as an option for those in need. The properties were predominantly single bedroom dwellings rented by the providers from private landlords. Most also had to meet the department’s strict criteria for housing child sex offenders.1
The original supported accommodation providers have become the backbone of post-release supported accommodation funded by Corrections. Over the years we have worked together to continuously improve the service design and ultimately the outcomes for ex-offenders. Increasingly, the service has offered more than just a roof overhead; it provides individualised wrap-around case management support, which is now a key element of the service overall. Assisting participants into suitable and independent long-term accommodation has become a critical part of supported accommodation services.
Originally, the performance of each provider against their contracts was measured via occupancy rates, and offender evaluations. Providers had to maintain occupancy rates of 80 percent and also ensure that at least 80 percent of participants were moved on to sustainable long-term accommodation in the community. The service was well-received by offenders and probation staff and has generally been viewed as successful. As an example, during the 2009/10 financial year, there were 202 participants in the service with an average occupancy rate of 82.5 percent and a 79.5 percent completion rate (Department of Corrections Internal Memorandum, 2010).
Current service provision
In early 2017, the prison population in New Zealand exceeded 10,000 (Department of Corrections Annual Report, 2017). The demand for supported accommodation post-release has increased correspondingly. In 2013, it was estimated that between 600 and 700 people were released annually with an unmet housing need (Department of Corrections Internal Memorandum, 2013).
Recently, a shortage of housing in New Zealand has put an added burden on existing supported accommodation services. Corrections is also playing a stronger role in providing social and health services for people post-release. In response, the Department has progressively increased its investment in post-release supported accommodation. Extra spaces in a number of new locations have been purchased, as well as increased capacity in existing locations. As a result, Corrections is expecting to spend approximately $3 million in 2017/18 on supported accommodation, with an estimated throughput of 640 people.
In contrast to the first supported accommodation contracts, the newer agreements have coupled accommodation outcomes with sustainable employment outcomes. This development has emerged from research that indicates that getting and keeping a job is critical to offender reintegration, and that individual reintegration needs cannot be addressed in isolation (Weigand, Sussell, Valentine, Henderson, 2015; Klinker Lockwood and Nally, 2016; Yahner, Paddock and Buck Willison, 2016; Ramakers, Van Wilsem, Nieuwbreerta and Dirkzwager, 2015; Cherney and Fitzgerald, 2016; Von Bergen and Bressler, 2016).
The Department’s new Employment and Accommodation Services in Auckland West and South, and in Bay of Plenty, Rotorua, Taupo and Tokoroa districts, are all examples of services that encapsulate both accommodation and employment milestones. Critical success measures for these services include employment placement, sustained employment and transition into long-term independent housing.
Services which focus on specific high-need or vulnerable cohorts have also been introduced in the last four years. Tiaki Tangata – a tikanga-based service for long-serving offenders that prefer a kaupapa Mäori approach – is one example, as is the recently contracted Supported Accommodation for Women service which attempts to respond to the unique needs of women leaving prison. Furthermore, an investment in emergency accommodation capacity for high-risk community offenders has also been made. As a result, the department’s total budget for supported accommodation-type services now exceeds $7 million for the 2017/18 financial year.
Supported accommodation outcome agreements – a cross-government contracting approach
Supported accommodation contracts were redesigned in 2015 by Corrections as part of a “whole-of-government” approach to purchasing social services. The use of The Government Streamlined Contracting Framework was encouraged. This approach supports the use of Result Based Accountability (RBA) methodology to measure service outcomes. New contract templates called “Outcome Agreements” are now being used. These agreements set out the specific terms of the agreement, including the service description and volumes, the community or population outcomes to which the service contributes, the desired client outcomes, and the usual pricing, monitoring and reporting arrangements. These new agreements encourage providers to achieve better reintegration outcomes by delivering offender-centric services.
The new contracting model for the department’s supported accommodation service clearly defines a number of delivery milestones along the reintegration pathway of each offender. They are:
- a comprehensive needs assessment and the development of an individualised reintegration plan
- placement into suitable transitional accommodation immediately following release
- transition to long-term sustainable accommodation
- the participant is not convicted of any offences during the 12 month period post-release.
In addition to the accommodation outcomes, the department’s contracts require that each participant is supported to address other identified needs, such as employment and health concerns. The payment structure of the contracts has been altered and a “payment-by-results” (RBA) model has been adopted whereby providers are paid only on the achievement of milestones. This ensures providers are held accountable for achieving positive re-integrative outcomes for offenders.
RBA uses three types of performance measures to gauge success, namely:
- How much did we do?
- How well did we do it?
- Is anyone better off?
Using a new online referral system and a provider reporting tool has meant that Corrections has good visibility of how much is being achieved in the community month-by-month. However, to better understand the other two RBA measures, the department must regularly carry out a series of
more tailored quality assurance activities in the field.
Supported accommodation and quality assurance
This year the department implemented a quality assurance framework for reintegration service contracts. Our flagship “Out of Gate” reintegration service was first to test the new framework. A series of case reviews were conducted in the field to establish the quality of cases completed, and more specifically, the actual re-integrative outcomes achieved by providers. The review produced some promising results along with a number of recommendations for the providers involved. The reviews also paved the way for similar quality reviews to be undertaken by other reintegration services.
The department’s supported accommodation service was the next to be tested under the new quality assurance framework. An initial desktop review of between five and ten percent of randomly selected cases from each provider was completed. Reintegration needs assessments and plans were reviewed, as were provider case notes and files. In addition, the following activities were conducted:
- site visits and provider staff interviews (including both management and frontline staff)
- Corrections frontline staff interviews (e.g. probation officers and case managers)
- offender interviews (where possible)
- an online survey for probation officers.
It became evident through this process the department’s service delivery model for supported accommodation is viewed as strong and effective. The outcomes-based contracting approach appears to have been implemented well by all providers. The service is highly regarded by probation staff as a key reintegration support tool that not only removes barriers to reintegration, but also improves the quality of other rehabilitative activities undertaken by the offenders.
The reviews also identified two opportunities to refine the milestone payment structure so the service could be more tailored to the offender’s specific needs. The two areas were at the assessment stage and allow the provider greater flexibility to respond to multiple parole board appearances and longer periods to source long-term accommodation solutions for higher risk offenders in a tight housing market.
The Department of Corrections; supported accommodation and
The department’s initial response to the recent review of the supported accommodation service has been to introduce a more flexible service model and payment structure. Reducing recidivism and long-term sustainable accommodation remain the ultimate goals; however the option to stay in transitional accommodation longer has become possible for high-need offenders, as well as the ability to opt in or out of wrap-around case management support as needed. Providers will also receive a monthly base payment to enable them to better navigate the risks associated with New Zealand’s current housing market. Ongoing quality monitoring activities and case reviews will assess the effectiveness of this approach. So far, the new approach has been well received by providers and frontline staff alike.
Solving New Zealand’s greater housing problems is an ongoing issue that will likely be at the forefront of future government initiatives. However, the Department of Corrections has some opportunities in the immediate future to work with other agencies to improve offender access to social housing post-release. Taking a collaborative “all-of-government” approach, contracting providers for improved results, and continuing to undertake thorough quality assurance activities for all of the department’s reintegration contracts will help to improve outcomes for some of New Zealand’s most vulnerable individuals.
Baldry, E., McDonnell, D., Maplestone, P., & Peeters, M. (2006) Ex-Prisoners, Homelessness and the State in Australia. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology. Volume 39 (1), 1-14.
Cherney A. & Fitzgerald R. (2016) Efforts by Offenders to Manage and Overcome Stigma: The Case of Employment. Current Issues in Criminal Justice. Volume 28 number 1(P17 – 31).
Cooper, V. (2016) ‘It’s all considered to be unacceptable behaviour’: Criminal Justice practitioners’ experience of statutory housing duty for (ex) offenders. Probation Journal. Volume 63(4), 433-451.
Department of Corrections (2010) Internal Memorandum: Supported Accommodation.
Department of Corrections (2013) Internal Memorandum to the Reducing Re-offending Governance Committee: Housing Need Amongst Released Prisoners (2013).
Department of Corrections (2016) Department of Corrections’ Annual Report 2016-2017. Wellington: Department of Corrections.
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Ramakers A.A.T., Van Wilsem J.A., Nieuwbeerta P. & Dirkzwager A.J.E. (2015) Returning to a Former Employer: A Potentially Successful Pathway to Ex-Prisoner Re-Employment. British Journal of Criminology, Volume 56, Issue 4(p668-688).
Social Exclusion Unit (2002) Reducing reoffending by ex-prisoners: Report by the Social Exclusion Unit. London: Social Exclusion Unit.
Von Bergen C.W., Bressler M.S (2016) “Ban the Box” Gives Ex-Offender a Fresh Start in Securing Employment. Labor Law Journal Volume 67 Issue 2. P383 – 395
Wiegand A., Sussell J. Valentine E., & Henderson B., (2015) Evaluation of the Re-Integration of Ex-Offenders (RExO) Programme: Two-Year Impact Report. Social Policy Research Associates. http://www.mdrc.org/sites/default/files/ETAOP_2015-04.pdf
Yahner J., Paddock E., & Buck Willison J., (2016) Validation of the Employment Retention Inventory. An Assessment Tool of the National Institute of Corrections. Justice Policy Centre. P1-60 http://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/85331/validation-of-the-employment-retention-inventory_0.pdf
1 The Department of Corrections has specific guidelines for housing child sex offenders, including restrictions on proximity to schools, parks, and family homes where children are occupants.