How we treat and assist prisoners and former prisoners, like myself, is critically important to all citizens of Canada. If we are interested in public safety, and in being fiscally responsible and morally upright as Canadians, we must ensure the professional and rehabilitative assistance to prisoners and those completing their terms of imprisonment. John Howard Society, by history and by experience and expertise, is best suited to help us do this.
Unfortunately, the John Howard Society is in need of some resuscitation in this regard. It seems that JHS has been lured into the pursuits of easier-to-obtain funding, and into the co-optation by federal and provincial governments who do not want oversight or critique. However, and thankfully, as with us who have been publicly identified as “criminals”, change is also possible for the JHS.
It seems that JHS Canada has produced a “5 Point Plan to Improve Corrections”. It is on their website. I strongly encourage all JHS staff to read this document, and for Directors and Boards particularly, to reflect on how they are effectively contributing to this plan in their various agencies. And, even more strongly, I recommend that those Directors and policy-makers reflect on how they are specifically addressing “Point 5: From Confinement to Contribution”. Here is where the resuscitation efforts must be most urgently applied.
How can that be done? Let’s assume that you leave the prison policy reform, and fiscally responsible policy matters related to prisoners in the capable hands of Catherine Latimer, your JHS Canada Executive Director. Much else can be done by your own JHS.
- Are you actively supporting and encouraging the efforts of JHS Canada, even if informally, rather than distancing yourselves from the sensitive political aspects of Ms. Latimer’s work?
- Are you making contact with all members of your community as they are sentenced to prison, informing them of your rehabilitative and re-integrative interest in them and your willingness to assist? No staff time? Consider recruitment of volunteers, perhaps former police and social workers, to be available to these new prisoners, in person or by correspondence, through defence lawyers, or even Crowns.
- Are you accepting collect phone calls from prisoners? Many of them have no contact with the outside world. That kind of social exclusion and isolation will increase risk to the public on release. Again, no staff time? Volunteers.
- Are you sending in rehabilitative and encouragement-to-change materials to these prisoners. They may not be getting any of that from the prison. Perhaps former now-rehabilitated prisoners could be useful in these regards as well.
- With the above suggestions, it may be possible to get participation from local faith communities or university faculties.
- It seems that JHS Canada is encouraging an ongoing process of involvement with prisoners from sentencing (if not arrest) to release. As your JHS is identified by the community as a focal point of ensuring public safety, this may encourage community participation if not increased funding.
- Are you encouraging the formation of “support circles” for all prisoners who will most benefit from them upon their release? Faith communities and groups like COSA, and relevant university department groups are extremely useful in helping ensure public safety. (These groups should perhaps focus on prisoners being released who might be at highest risk of re-offence, not just most sex offenders.)
- Do you have ‘former- prisoner’ representation on your Board?
- Are you aware of when prisoners are being released to your community, and are you there to meet them and provide some basic reintegration assistance to them, if they desire it? Again, no staff? Volunteers.
These are only a few ideas from my own experience, perspective, and imagination. I’m sure that, as creative, committed, public-safety-oriented professionals, you will have many more ideas on how Step 5 can be supported.
Yes, JHS is in need of resuscitation in these regards. Thank goodness for all of you. Our public safety and our humanity are well served by all of you.