The John Howard Society is in need of resuscitation!

The traditional heartbeat of John Howard is failing. Across the country, more and more JHS branches are reducing or stepping away from adult justice services and service for prisoners and advocacy for prisoners’ rights. Fewer and fewer JHS Directors are engaged in any kind of system “watchdog” initiatives, and are financially reluctant to speak out about justice system abuses and deficits of humane or sensible justice-system policies. Very few JHS branches budget to be able to accept collect calls from prisoners or to establish toll-free lines for prisoners to be able to reach out. More and more JHS branches are taking on contractual roles with the justice system and are then ‘financially’ reluctant to be in any way critical of system abuses or to call for reform.

Youth services funding is so much easier to obtain these days. Funding for various social service programs are becoming more and more common-place, and undoubtedly useful. The mental health system has seen JHS as a willing and capable of provider for mental health services at a fraction of the cost the health system would have to pay on their own.

The JHS is apparently becoming more and more “funder-centered” rather than “client-centered”. Unwittingly, in many branches, JHS has been ‘co-opted’ by the very system it supposedly wants to see reformed. The concern for prisoners’ rights and humane and sensible treatment is trumped by concern for agency financial security. Many directors are afraid to speak out and perhaps lose funding.

Understandable? Of course. Everyone has mortgages to pay and families to support. And, if funding drops off then all JHS services, including the shrinking adult justice services, will be threatened.

Nonetheless, it is critical that JHS attempt to restore the vitality of this amazing organization. There are many new JHS staff who have no idea of the history or traditional values of JHS. There are many JHS staff who, it seems, have no interest at all in the rights of prisoners or the value of rehabilitative and reintegration services. Even those new staff within halfway houses are often graduates of community ‘justice’ service programs and, too often, see their role as custodial and punitive rather than contributing to community safety through relationship building and encouragement of parolees. In fact, in many JHS halfway houses the rules or residence and relationship with staff are set by Correctional Services. How can JHS be watchdog of Corrections when they are basically employing, and training and overseeing JHS staff?

There are tens of thousands of people across Canada in prison, and may thousands more in from of the Courts every day. If JHS is not there to help those in prison, or about to be, who will be ?

From someone who was a prisoner and who has been tremendously helped to start a new life by JHS, in its traditional role, please heed this alarm. JHS is in need of resuscitation. It IS possible to restore the heartbeat, and then clear the arteries. JHS has a dynamic national leader, and many dedicated Directors and staff across the country. Please avoid further drift into criminological “psycho-sclerosis” (hardening of the attitudes ).

Stay tuned for some resuscitation ideas. And, keep up the great work !




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