Housing problems behind bars on parole

Availability of suitable housing was behind a third of Victorian potential parolees being kept behind bars, prompting a call to supercharge social housing stocks.

New data shows 116 parole applications in Victoria were rejected last financial year because of an absence of suitable accommodation or insufficient time left on the prisoner's sentence to find an appropriate alternative.

"A lack of suitable accommodation continues to be a barrier for prisoners progressing through the parole process," the 2021/22 Adult Parole Board annual report reads.

The board denied 32 per cent of requests on suitable accommodation grounds, a rise from 30 per cent in 2020/21. It was also cited as a factor in 54 per cent of all parole denials, falling from 61 per cent in 2020/21.

Another 47 prisoners also self-reported it as the reason for withdrawing their application.

The Council to Homeless Persons seized on the figures, declaring Victorian taxpayers would have saved more than $25 million over 12 months if all 163 prisoners were granted parole.

"Victoria's social housing shortfall is now stinging all taxpayers who are footing the bill to unnecessarily keep more people in prison," chief executive Jenny Smith said in statement on Wednesday.

"Housing availability is also a major factor in keeping people out of jail once they are released. Building more social housing is proven to reduce crime."

The latest figures from Corrections Victoria show there were 6691 prisoners across the state at the end of November, up 1.4 per cent from 12 months earlier.

There has been a 6.2 per cent rise in the number of unsentenced prisoners in the system since November 2021, with the cohort accounting for 42.8 per cent of all those in custody.

It cost $421 a day or $154,000 a year on average to keep a prisoner behind bars in Victoria in 2020/21, the most of any state, according a Productivity Commission research paper released in 2021.

Ms Smith urged the Victorian government to commit to building 6000 new social dwellings a year over the next decade, particularly in light of the scheduled end to its $5.3 billion Big Housing Build program in mid-2024.

"Investment in social housing is more cost-effective than spending even more on prisons. We can make our community safer while addressing one of the key issues in our society," she said.

A Corrections Victoria program offers transitional housing to prisoners exiting custody, with a Maribyrnong community site accommodating more than 160 men - including 94 on parole - since opening in 2020.

A Victorian government spokesperson said a stable roof over people's heads is an important part of breaking the cycle of reoffending.

"We have several pathways for both male and female offenders to find accommodation that is suitable to their needs," she said.

"We know there is an urgent need for social and affordable housing right across Victoria."