Criminal Justice System Involvement Among Homeless Adults


This study characterized the specific offenses for which homeless individuals are arrested and incarcerated. Data were gathered from 581 homeless adults across 6 Oklahoma City shelters. Participants were asked to self-report incarceration history, nights spent in jails and prisons, and the offenses for which they were arrested. Overall, 76% of the sample had ever been arrested. Fifty-seven percent of the sample had been to jail more than 3 times in their lifetime and 13% had ever intentionally been arrested. The most prevalent type of arrest was drug possession (35%), followed by driving under the influence (31%) and disorderly conduct or public drunkenness (28%). Violent arrests, such as assault, robbery, domestic violence, murder, and rape, were the least prevalent type of arrest. In summary, offenses were largely drug and status offenses. These offenses may be prevented through increased substance use treatment accessibility and availability of housing. Policies to increase employment and housing for homeless adults regardless of criminal history should be expanded to reduce the occurrence of justice involvement.

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Correspondence to Jennifer Reingle Gonzalez.

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Gonzalez, J.R., Jetelina, K.K., Roberts, M. et al. Criminal Justice System Involvement Among Homeless Adults. Am J Crim Just 43, 158–166 (2018).

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  • Homeless
  • Criminal justice
  • Arrest