Breaking the Cycle between Debts, Prison and Homelessness to Improve Community Reintegration

Samantha Sowerwine

Justice Connect Homeless Law
Principal Lawyer

Samantha Sowerwine is the principal lawyer of Justice Connect Homeless Law and manages the 'Closing the Revolving Door' Prison Project. Samantha has been working in the community legal sector since 2005, with a particular interest in prisoners.

Nyree Tranter

Victorian Department of Health and Human Services
Team Leader, Housing Practice Advisory Team

Nyree Tranter is originally from New Zealand and is an Indigenous wahine (woman) who has resided in Melbourne, Australia since 2005.

Living in New Zealand, Nyree worked with Indigenous women and children with a whanau (family) centred approach providing immediate response, counselling support to survivors or victims of sexual violence, including facilitating the Child Witnessing program for children that have witnessed family violence and were at risk of offending or re-offending.

Nyree is an experienced public housing practitioner. She currently works at the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services as a Team Leader of the Housing Practice Advisory team. The team is providing practical supports for the frontline public housing workforce through the facilitation of practice workshops, analysis of local practice challenges and preparation of practice guidance that drive effective client interactions, performance and continuous improvement.

Research indicates that debt is one of the most significant and under-addressed legal problems among Australia’s prisoner population. For many prisoners, outstanding debts reduce their ability to reintegrate with the community post-release and increase their likelihood of reoffending. This paper explores an innovative pilot project that aims to address prisoner debt early, with a view to increasing opportunities for reintegration post-release.

Until recently, debts to the Office of Housing in Victoria for rental arrears, repairs or compensation were a significant barrier to prisoners being offered public housing. In most cases, prisoners would not be offered public housing unless certain repayment conditions were met. In partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Justice Connect Homeless Law (Justice Connect) established a specialised Project to resolve public housing debts for 16 women in custody, aiming to inform and improve the debt practices of DHHS. Through individual casework outcomes and systemic policy changes, Victorian prisoners are now in a better position to access safe post-release housing.