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Characteristics of Homeless Jail Inmates: Implications for Social Work

NCJ Number
E J Blakely
Date Published
25 pages
This study was conducted in Flint, Michigan to determine what percentage of jail inmates were homeless at the time of arrest.
It was hypothesized that homeless people who committed crimes to get off the street committed minor crimes such as loitering, shoplifting, trespassing, and vandalism, but did not exhibit the psychological factors that would lead them to commit serious crimes such as homicide, rape, robbery, assault, and drug dealing. Arrest records for 1988 were obtained from county jail administrators. A random sample of 54 current inmates were interviewed between February and April 1990. The interview sample of homeless inmates was compared to the total 1988 jail population. Of the 54 inmates, 27 were identified as homeless, significantly higher than the national estimate of homeless persons as 1 percent of the general population. Contrary to the study hypothesis, some homeless inmates had been arrested for cocaine possession, cocaine selling, robbery, assault, assault with intent to kill, and other serious crimes. It is concluded that social work services for homeless inmates will need to be creative, nontraditional, and assertive. Since it is not likely that homeless inmates will seek needed services upon release, they should be evaluated during their incarceration and receive appropriate social work services in jail. 15 references, 11 footnotes, and 6 tables