Creating Positive Pathways: A long-term housing initiative for people released from prison

Helen Johnston
Senior Adviser, Community Partnerships, Department of Corrections

Author biography:Helen has spent most of her career in the finance field, with the last 10 years at Corrections. She has worked across the Department, including as the finance lead for the Reducing Re-offending programme, management accountant for Health and Service Development, and project adviser for the Offender Employment Review in which she created five-year plans for each site. For the past year and a half she has been a senior adviser in the Community Partnerships team, managing contracts for Intensive Support Services.

Evidence shows that when people are released from prison they can experience a number of challenges when integrating back into the community. In particular, they may struggle to access sustainable housing in either the social or private market, obtain employment, engage in education or develop pro-social connections. Each of these factors, or any combination thereof, can contribute to negative outcomes such as insecure housing, unemployment or benefit reliance. In some cases, an individual’s release from prison may be delayed because they have no suitable accommodation to go to.

The Department of Corrections (Corrections) funds a number of reintegration programmes that provide transitional support to people leaving prison and help them towards independence in the community. Reintegration programmes encompass a range of different supports and include the development of a reintegration plan, support to access community services, or direct provision of services such as temporary accommodation and employment.

Service provider evidence (both reported and anecdotal) shows that locating stable long-term accommodation for this group is challenging. There are a range of factors contributing to this issue including affordability, accessibility (for example challenges securing a rental in the private market because of their criminal history) and the current housing shortage more generally. Corrections estimates that there are approximately 700 people released from prison each year  with an unmet housing need.

People who have served a prison sentence are also more likely to slip backwards along the housing continuum and experience negative long-term outcomes. For example, these people may need to access emergency housing support through the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), they may experience long-term stays in insecure or inadequate housing, and they are more likely to be unemployed, be reliant on a benefit, and re-offend, resulting in a greater long-term cost to government (Greenfield, McGuire, Miller & Wolanski, 2016).

The initiative

MSD secured government funding from Budget 2017 to purchase additional long-term housing places for people who have served a prison sentence of more than two years or who have frequent interactions with Corrections. This is a high-liability cohort at risk of re-offending and without assistance to find long-term housing they often wind up in more marginal accommodation e.g. boarding houses and hostels.

The “Creating Positive Pathways” initiative was co-designed by MSD and Corrections to provide access to stable accommodation through the provision of a social housing Income-Related Rent Subsidy (IRRS) placement following completion of a Corrections’ reintegration intervention. In addition, funding was secured to provide those being supported through this initiative with services to address any ongoing issues that may be contributing to their offending. This support augments the assistance they have received during their time in prison, with a view to improving their longer term outcomes.

This cross-agency initiative recognises the need for agencies to work together to meet the needs of highly vulnerable populations and intends to show how stable housing has a positive impact on the achievement of positive longer-term outcomes. It also seeks to better understand the housing and support different individuals need to enable them to sustain housing and achieve positive outcomes, including reduced re-offending, and entering and maintaining employment with reduced welfare dependency.

More specifically, the initiative targets those released from prison who are at risk of negative housing and other outcomes, namely those who have served a long sentence or who have frequent interactions with Corrections (short-servers) and who are:

  • assessed as eligible for social housing and have a severe unmet housing need
  • participating in an eligible Department of Corrections reintegration intervention.

MSD and Corrections also designed a new service that identifies people who are eligible for this support while they are still in prison and develops a reintegration plan before they are released. This means there is relative certainty of the date they will complete their reintegration programme and require a social housing place.

The initiative began in August 2018 and will run for four years. It will provide:

  • (income-related, rent-subsidised) additional placements in public housing across the four-year period. These placements will be specifically for people upon release from prison. These will primarily be for people who have served a long sentence (two years or more) but will also be available for those who have had frequent interactions with Corrections (have served multiple prison sentences of less than two years).

The houses and wrap-around support services will be available as long as there is a need and until transitions to greater independence can be made (as with any other person or household who is allocated public housing).

Service providers will also help clients to access any other services they may need including health, employment or education services. It is expected that most of the support will be required in the first 6 – 12 months following release to address immediate needs, with a lighter service required from that point on.

Of the allocated places, 125 will be in Auckland with the remaining 125 places split equally between the Wellington and Northland regions. Thirty of the total places will be targeted specifically for women.

MSD and Corrections developed the costing for this initiative based on funding for houses with one or two bedrooms on the assumption that those who require a greater number of bedrooms are likely going back to family who already hold a social housing tenancy or have housing in the private market. This initiative is targeted at those who are single and do not have stable accommodation upon exit from prison.

Evidence to support the services aspect of this initiative

The Social Housing Valuation (Greenfield, McGuire, Miller & Wolanski, 2015) found that “prison” was given as a reason for exit in six percent of all exits from social housing. Having been in prison before is also a strong predictor of exit from social housing.

The valuation also found that amongst Māori and Pacific people, primary householders who had served a Corrections sentence in the previous 10 years were nearly twice as likely to exit as those who had not. For example, there were 570 exits (28 percent) from people who had a Corrections history in the past 10 years and who were not Māori or Pacifica and 1,655 exits from people who had a Corrections history in the previous 10 years and who were Māori or Pacifica. People who exited as a result of a Corrections sentence seemed to have higher rates of re-engagement with the public housing register.

This evidence highlights the importance of the support services aspect of this initiative. Tailored services that build on support given in prison will help to ensure that once someone is given a ring-fenced social housing place, they are better able to sustain that tenancy and achieve other positive outcomes. Data from the 2014 Welfare Valuation shows the high levels of unemployment among ex-prisoners, evidenced by the high numbers that flow into the benefit system. Nearly two-thirds of ex-prisoners receive a primary benefit (e.g. job seeker or sickness benefit) within one month of exiting prison (66 percent) and a large proportion, (up to 80%), have been found to stay on a primary benefit for more than a year.

This initiative will address an identified gap in service provision. For example, for the month ending 30 November 2016, less than half (49.4%) of the people leaving prison were able to be settled into long-term accommodation, and in December 2016 the same report shows that just slightly more than half (55.6%) were in long-term accommodation. This initiative seeks to ensure that people leaving prison are supported to progress positively along the housing continuum, and to achieve positive long-term outcomes.


MSD has identified a number of opportunities for using feedback loops to respond to early information obtained through the initiative. An evaluation design has been developed so that the early findings inform ongoing delivery. This includes collecting a range of qualitative information from providers and tenants about their experience of the services.

To assess how well this trial works, outcomes of those accepted into the trial will be compared with those who are not on the trial (but who may have been eligible if more places had been available). An assessment of the implementation of the trial will also be undertaken and some participants will be invited to interviews with researchers to share their stories and experiences whilst on the trial.

The evaluation will seek to answer the following questions:

  1. To what extent has the initiative resulted in better outcomes for people exiting prison who have an identified housing need?
  2. How well has the initiative been implemented and does it sufficiently support the achievement of the desired outcomes?
  3. What general information can be gathered to inform what works?

A range of outcomes will be measured across the evaluation:

  • Improved stability of tenure
  • Reduced re-offending
  • Reduced benefit support
  • Reduced Corrections spending
  • Improved sustainability of employment and income
  • Increased engagement in education and training
  • Improved health outcomes
  • Improved social connectedness
  • Improved confidence, resilience and life skills.

The joined-up approach between MSD and Corrections for the design of this trial means we have created a service tailored to individual need that bypasses traditional processes for acquiring short-term housing and wrap-around support services.

Evaluation of the pilot is due to begin mid 2019, with interim reporting expected by December 2020. A final report is due by December 2022.

Exit strategy

If assessed as a feasible evaluation approach, MSD intends to undertake an impact analysis after two years of the initiative. This approach will provide valuable insights into whether MSD should continue with the combined housing and support services model, whether the initiative is connecting with the right reintegration programmes, or whether the initiative should be scaled down to fund only the housing component.


Greenfield A., Mcguire G., Miller H., Wolanski K., (2016) Ministry of Social Development Valuation of the benefit system for working-age adults as at 30 June 2015. Wellington: Ministry of Social Development

Greenfield A., Mcguire G., Miller H., Wolanski K., (2015) Baseline Valuation of the Social Housing System