Homelessness to Mass Incarceration


Homelessness and incarceration are two experiences with a two-fold correlation. Not only the conditions of homelessness make people vulnerable to the different societal factors that may lead to imprisonment, but also the experience of the incarceration creates a high possibility that the former inmates of the penitentiary institutions will be homeless after leaving the prison.

For that reason, it is important to pay more attention to the influences that put pressure on the homeless people and can result in their imprisonment. Since the homeless are not capable of providing a safe dwelling for themselves at some point of their lives, there is a wide range of negative factors to which homeless people are exposed more than the other members of the society.

Some of those factors include the exposure to the criminal environment, which results in the high rates of committing crime among the homeless, the increased level of vulnerability towards the range of the mental disorders, the likelihood of the drug abuse, etc. Overall, many of those aspects of the homelessness may lead to the incarceration.

The objective of this paper is to analyze the correlations between the homelessness and crime rates, as well as its connections to the mental disorders and substance abuse in the context of how homeless lifestyle can be related to the incarceration.

The relationship between homelessness and committing crime

It is important to point out the fact that the homeless suffer from the restricted access to the societal and public spheres, including but not limited to education, healthcare services, employment, being not able to use modern means of communication and technological devices.

From the sociological perspective, all of those factors leave the homeless on the outskirts of the society because they are not provided with the same amount of assets than the other social groups are. Such phenomenon constitutes the main reason why are the homeless more exposed to the criminal and violent behavior.

One of the evidence of the reasonability of such approach of interpreting this linkage is that the number of the people of the certain social category in prison is often compared to the number of people of the same social category in colleges.

Of course, in terms of the American context, such comparison often comprises the black male members of the community since sociological evidence shows that they constitute a disproportional part of the imprisoned. For example, there are “about 1.4 million black men enrolled in higher education and a cataclysmic 745,000 behind bars” (Moore par. 9).

Although these figures represent a certain improvement within this social category, they are still disproportionate comparing to the other social groups.

Overall, such statistics shows that incarceration reflects certain societal patterns that result in making groups of people more likely to be in the penitentiary institution on the basis of their ethnicity and race, gender, and education. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that some of the similar sociological categories define the degree to which people are exposed to the homelessness experience.

The sociological differences cause the homeless people to perceive themselves and be regarded by others as not belonging to any social class. In other words, because they do not have the same opportunities, the society does not expect them to have any social mobility or to make progress. It produces the phenomenon of the ‘outcast’ culture that is sometimes cultivated among the groups of the homeless people.

The homeless are spared the means to survive more than the other members of society. For example, they cannot rely on such thing as healthcare services when they have troubles with their health, or it is hard for a homeless person to find a decent employment because they would be considered a liability because of their lifestyle.

In a similar manner, there is no opportunity for a bank loan that would provide them with a chance because they would have neither a reliable cosigner nor the property to ensure the deal with the bank. Hence, considering the fact that there are very few opportunities for the homeless to have money to survive, the crime rates are higher than average in their community (Markowitz 60).

Thus, the homeless people often are not seen by the society as suitable for working in a normal environment, and they do not have many contacts with the mainstream community. Therefore, the fact that the homeless, in many ways, are left out of the general public, results in the way how they alienate themselves from the rest of the society. Crime becomes the only means to survive for the most of them.

Even in the situation, where there are some sources of support from the mainstream community to the homeless, it is admitted that there are not enough of them. Moreover, there is a psychological barrier for the homeless to seek help from the rest of the society because it alienated them.

Overall, the lack of opportunities may cause some signs of hostility amongst the homeless and determine the violent and criminal behavior. Considering the fact that there is a substantial percentage of the homeless who found themselves in such condition because they were released from the penitentiary institution, there is a cycle of the homelessness, crime, and incarceration.

However, there is also nonetheless important issues of the victimization of the homeless. In other words, while there are some risks that provoke the homeless to follow the paths of the criminal behavior, they are also recognized as the likely victims of the violent types of crime (Markowitz 60). Because of the lack of social protection and the psychological insecurity amongst the homeless, there is a tendency of their victimization, which constitutes a serious issue for the society.

The correlation between the level of homelessness and mental illness

The linkage between such phenomenon as homelessness and the developments of mental disorders is extended to the fact that, according to the research, there is an independently documented evidence of “the increasing numbers of persons with mental illness in jails and prisons, many of whom are homeless” (Markowitz 46).

Thus, it is important to point out that not only the condition of homelessness creates the media of stresses, insecurity, substance abuse, etc. that can lead to the development of the mental illness but also the very experience of incarceration can be traumatic enough to launch the mental disorder (Markowitz 47).

Both physical and mental health of the people experiencing homelessness is substantially worse than the rest of the population.

The rates of the mental disorders observed among the homeless people are considerably high, especially in the number of people suffering from substance abuse and drug addictions, schizophrenia, psychiatric comorbidity, and various forms of anxiety and mood-related disorders, sometimes including depression and some forms of the bipolar disorder (Salkow and Fichter 469).

It is also important to underline that there is a linkage among the undiagnosed or unrecognized timely mental disorders, committing crimes, and incarceration. For example, the undiagnosed and untreated mental disorder such as substance abuse or some forms of the bipolar disorder can create the threat to both the person who is suffering from it and the people around.

The danger of the person who is not responsible for their actions should not be underestimated, which is why it is important not to overlook the providing the mental health care option for all the categories of the population, including the people who are experiencing homelessness.

The factors that make the homeless people more vulnerable to the various kinds of the mental disorders, of course, include the lack of the proper medical care for the psychical and mental health of this part of the populations, but they are not limited to it. The fact that the homeless are limited in their social life and communication with other people is also one of the antecedents.

Since either there is no one to notice the problem or nobody expresses any concern about the state of mind of the homeless people suffering from the mental disorders, some of the illnesses are not diagnosed and treated. Therefore, one of the objectives of the programs and initiatives aimed at helping the homeless to cope with the mental disorders is to enhance the recognition of them at the early stages.

The linkage between the condition of homelessness and drug abuse

The alcohol and drug addictions and substance abuse can often play the significant role in causing the condition of homelessness. Although, like in many other aspects, the correlation between those phenomena is two-fold. On one hand, drugs and alcohol addictions make people lose their jobs and live in the street. On the other hand, the unsafe and dangerous environment of living as a homeless person can be the cause of the substance abuse (Kolata par. 2).

Moreover, in many ways, the drug abuse creates an incentive for the homeless people who suffer from it to steal and sell drugs themselves in order either to keep using the substances or to earn some money. As a result, such practices lead to the incarceration and severe attempts to fight the drug addiction in the penitentiary institutions.

However, it is important not to ignore the fact that drug abuse is a form of mental disorder that needs to be treated and diagnosed. For that reason, the only possible way to overcome such an issue is to help the homeless to defeat their problem and re-entry society.


Some of the main issues that cause suffering to the homeless population include the high level of the exposure to the criminal environment, which results in the widespread involvement in committing crime among the homeless, the increased level of vulnerability towards some mental disorders, and the likelihood of the drug, alcohol, and substance abuse.

The possibility of incarceration is very likely for the homeless who are involved in criminal activities or suffer from the mental disorders or drug abuse. However, there is a correlation in another direction, and the experience of the incarceration can be traumatic enough, for example, to launch a mental disorder.

Works Cited

Kolata, Gina. “Drugs Addicts Among the Homeless: Case Studies of Some Lost Dreams.” The New York Times 30 May 1989. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.

Markowitz, Fred. “Psychiatric Hospital Capacity, Homelessness, and Crime and Arrest Rates.” Criminology 44.1 (2006): 45-72. Print.

Moore, Antonio. “The Black Male Incarceration Problem Is Real and It’s Catastrophic.” The Huffington Post 19 Apr. 2015. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.

Salkow, Katja, and Manfred Fichter. “Homelessness and mental illness.” Current Opinion in Psychiatry 16.4 (2003): 467-471. Print.

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