JHSC pilots a digital guide in the journey to successful reintegration

I.M. Grenada

April 2, 2024

For many John Howard clients, the trek from incarceration back to the fabric of society is like a tour through a vast, often unforgiving desert. Even water comes at a price. For the recently released though, the future can be a horizon of especially scorching challenges and mirages of false starts.


For some 60 years now, the John Howard Society has served as oasis for the incarcerated, formerly incarcerated, or those trying to legally avoid incarceration in that wilderness. In 2022, while still firmly ensconced in the first of these categories, I asked the executive body at JHSC to consider the role that smart phones might play in increasing successful reintegration. A year prior, Parliament had legislated the Minister of Public Safety to pursue creative initiatives in meaningful recidivism reduction. At that time, JHSC signalled publicly that we were deeply interested in contributing to that creative process. But an app to digitize reintegration? Spearheaded by a prisoner who had been incarcerated for 30 years and never seen the internet – or successful reintegration? There’s creative, and then there’s… surrealism.   


Today, after nine months in development, the commitment JHSC made to thinking outside the box in this pursuit is bearing fruit. In close cooperation with the John Howard Society of British Columbia and our partners at Public Safety Canada, the Government of Canada COVID Recovery Fund, and the Northpines Foundation we begin our west coast pilot-project for the H.O.M.E. app — an electronic roadmap that aims our clients at successful reintegration by means of the five-pillar approach to reducing recidivism. 


The H.O.M.E app (Help, Organize, Merge, Educate) pilot project, commencing only in British Columbia at this time, diverges markedly from other digital platforms currently in use to augment conditional release in the United States and other European counties. In those jurisdictions, digital apps associated with parole are often little more than electronic monitoring devices – an ankle bracelet with YouTube. Media in those locales report of parolees being risk-assessed to reoffend (incurring reincarnation) when their parole app indicated an increase in pulse, blood pressure or body temperature. As if that ever happens during a desert crossing.   


Alternatively, the H.O.M.E. app takes its design cues from John Howard’s considerable experience of successful client reintegration as well as the rehabilitative approach of Norway, with its focus on advanced preparation and in-person support for those returning to the community. As Norwegian corrections officials often state publicly, in Norway they don’t release prisoners; they release neighbours. In this vein, the H.O.M.E app is designed to help recently released Canadians become better neighbours. 

Our experience is that human and social capital are often both scarce and tainted for those emerging from incarceration. JHSC joins other reintegration experts and agencies in assessing that in unison, employment, housing, healthcare, education and positive social contacts comprise five essential factors that formerly incarcerated and recently released persons feel most lacking in.


The H.O.M.E. app targets these factors by directing users to opportunities for affordable housing, skill development, employment, health care (including mental health care), and social networking, while prioritizing personal contact through the app with those who can most help in situations that could otherwise contribute to recidivism. It puts the ability – and responsibility – for successful reintegration where we believe it has the greatest chance for lasting success: in the hands of our clients. As we accept that incarcerated people make the choices that lead to imprisonment, we also accept their ability to make choices leading to successful reintegration. Increasing opportunities for our clients to make those great choices remains the superpower of John Howard Societies nationwide. 


Grounded in time-tested rehabilitation models but enriched with digital innovation, the H.O.M.E. app being piloted in the Pacific region by JHSC and John Howard British Columbia in the months ahead charts the course for a new horizon in support for JHS clients and service providers, as we walk alongside those clients in their arduous trek from the wasteland of imprisonment to the oasis of successful reintegration. Today the journey continues with the help of a new tool.




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