A 2015 report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimated that there were 51,000 instances of people being released from Australian prisons in 2014 (AIHW, 2015). There is a substantial need for programs that provide support and services to people at this vulnerable time. Securing safe and secure accommodation is one of the most critical challenges that people leaving custody face; however, obtaining housing can be problematic due to interpersonal conflict, lack of family, complex treatment needs and limited finances (Fontaine & Biess, 2012; Graffam & Shinkfield, 2012; Roman & Travis, 2004). Therefore, people recently released from custody may rely on other options, such as supported accommodation programs or homeless shelters (Clark, 2015). These can take many forms, including ‘halfway houses’, where people live in a house as a group, sometimes following a therapeutic program; or scattered site supported housing programs, where people are provided with their own accommodation (i.e. a house or apartment), while also receiving therapeutic support in the form of home visits and/or participating in other therapeutic activities (e.g. attending a day centre).
There is a growing demand within the field of criminal justice for more rigorous research and evaluation of interventions (Wright, Zhang, Farabee, & Braatz, 2014). Demonstrating the effectiveness of criminal justice interventions is critical in developing and producing evidence-based programs that can produce tangible outcomes for individuals. There is some evidence that interventions for people released from prison that include an accommodation component are effective in reducing re-offending and the severity of future re-offending (Seiter & Kadela, 2003; Somers, Rezansoff, Moniruzzaman, Palepu, & Patterson, 2013). A recent narrative review examined the efficacy of a variety of post-release programs, including programs that included a residential component, provided counselling services, vocational training, education or aftercare. Programs that included some kind of a residential component were found to produce the most positive results overall (Wright et al., 2014). Existing reviews have not looked at specific forms of supported accommodation for people released from prison, nor identified elements of supported accommodation services that contribute to positive outcomes.
Objectives of this study
The Rainbow Lodge Program is a non-profit organisation in New South Wales (NSW), Australia, that provides a responsive, intensive and supportive service to male Corrective Services clients assessed with having high needs, a strong risk of re-offending and homelessness, in order that they effectively re-enter and integrate into the community.
This study has been undertaken to:
- Document the Rainbow Lodge Program; and
- Identify opportunities for the development of the Rainbow Lodge Program as an evidence-informed service.
To these ends, this report includes:
- A description of the Rainbow Lodge Program, developed in consultation with staff and management of the Program;
- The results of a systematic review aimed at assessing the evidence on effectiveness of post-release supported accommodation programs similar to Rainbow Lodge, and identifying elements of such programs that contribute to positive client outcomes; and
- Implications of the findings of the systematic review for the Rainbow Lodge Program.
Results of the systematic review
The systematic review identified only nine publications meeting the eligibility criteria for inclusion (evaluation of a post-release supported accommodation program similar to the Rainbow Lodge Program). Studies were frequently methodologically flawed, and few consistent findings were evident, with regards to either effectiveness of post-release supported accommodation programs in reducing recidivism, or program characteristics associated with positive participant outcomes.
Recommendations for the Rainbow Lodge Program
Given the inconclusive findings of the review, it is difficult to identify recommendations for the day-to-day operations or components of the Rainbow Lodge Program.
What is clear from the review is that there is a need for methodologically rigorous, comprehensive research on this type of post-release program, particularly outside the United States. Ideally, an outcome evaluation would be undertaken to assess the impact of the Rainbow Lodge Program on recidivism and other outcomes. However, there are important challenges to consider in proposing an outcome evaluation: identification and recruitment of an appropriate comparison group, and recruitment of sufficient numbers of participants to detect any effect that may exist.
Given the challenges of undertaking an outcome evaluation (which will require further planning to be overcome), in the short-term, a process evaluation may be a more feasible option for further research on the Rainbow Lodge Program. This could include a retrospective file review, as well as quantitative and qualitative data collection with current residents.
In order to enable future research, it is recommended that the Rainbow Lodge Program introduce a “Consent to research” form at program entry. This will allow client assessments to be used in research, and data linkage into the future.
Download the PDF for the full report