Incarcerated People and Homelessness

This resource provides facts and statistics on incarcerated people and homelessness.

Incarcerated People and Homelessness

15.3% of jail inmates have been homeless at some point in the year before incarcerationi.

Data from the 1996 NSHPAC showedii:

  • 49% of currently homeless clients reported an experience of spending five or more days in a city or county jail
  • 18% reported experiencing juvenile detention before age 18
  • 54% reported experiencing one or more types of incarceration

Research data about people incarcerated in prisons and in jails show that:

  • 10% were homeless immediately before incarceration
  • 20% of the incarcerated population with mental illness were homeless
  • Arrest rates for a sample of homeless adults over a 12-month period range from 10% for those without substance use disorders to 20% for those abusing alcohol or other drugsiii

Age, Gender & Race/Ethnicity

In a study of older homeless adults in Minnesotaiv:

  • 51% had been incarcerated at some point in their lives
  • 11% had been incarcerated in the past year

Serious Mental Illness, Traumatic Stress, & Substance Use

Of jail inmates who were homeless in the year prior to incarceration, many had high rates of mental health, substance use, and traumatic experiencesv:

  • 79% showed symptoms indicating drug or alcohol abuse or dependence
  • 75% showed symptoms indicating the presence of a mental illness
  • 31% have been physically or sexually abused
  • 46% have been shot at (excludes military combat)
  • 49% have been attacked with a knife or other sharp object

View the HRC's additional factsheets:


Publication Date: 
Rockville, MD, USA