Provincial program helps those with criminal records enter labour pool

Community Justice Initiatives among organizations that will share in $12 million fund to help some 2,000 people

Last updated on May 04, 23

Posted on May 04, 23

3 min read

Labour shortages are the impetus for immigration programs, apprenticeships and drives to expand recruitment into non-traditional groups – the likes of enticing more women into the skilled trades, for instance. Now, a new program looks to another underutilized pool of potential workers: former convicts and others with criminal records.

The “second chance hiring” initiative increases the labour pool and helps those previously incarcerated to better adapt by finding good-paying jobs in fields such as construction, manufacturing, hospitality, and food and beverage processing. Participants will be provided with a range of employment and training through apprenticeship and technical training, on-the-job learning, and improving job readiness and interview skills.

In an effort to help those transitioning out of the justice system, the provincial government has earmarked $12 million to support up to 2,000 Ontarians with a criminal record find employment.

That funding includes $119,000 for Community Justice Initiatives Waterloo Region (CJI), which will  work with previously incarcerated or criminalized individuals and local business leaders to get people into local jobs.

The program will support up to 96 individuals in the region under the auspices of CJI’s Stride program, which has been helping women reintegrate into the community for 25 years.

The program will help address the gap that exists between those leaving the justice system and employers, said Kate Crozier, CJI’s director of programs.

“[It will] look at the opportunities and then address the barriers that exist from making that connection happen. We hear from women that they very much want access to get into the trades after prison, and the prison currently doesn’t do much training for the trades. If we have some employers or connections at local colleges, we’ll be looking at what happened while people are still incarcerated so that when they get out they’re ready to go in their field of choice,” Crozier said.

The program follows the idea of transformative justice, which looks to build alternatives to the current system, explained Ali Diebold, an instructor of social work and PhD candidate at Wilfrid Laurier University,

“It is really not to only respond to these incidents of violence, but also to prevent future violence from happening. And so there’s a lot of focus on dealing with root causes of harm [such as poverty],” Diebold said.

“[It] looks to create different systems or different interventions that focus on resolving those root causes of crime. It looks at what kinds of community infrastructures can we create to support more safety, transparency, sustainability, care and connection,” she explained.

Leaving the justice system can be a traumatic experience that includes uncertainty and a loss of previous – and often unhealthy – support systems, said Crozier.

“They don’t have housing. Often don’t have ID. Don’t have employment lined up because there’s no access to the internet inside prisons. Coupled with the fact that there’s so much onus placed on them to succeed, they are expected to find work and to find housing and to meet all the other conditions of their parole,” she explained, noting that’s a lot to ask of many former prisoners, some of whom may be going back into the community sober for the first time.

While the Canadian justice system is designed such that the loss of freedom is the punishment for criminal acts, the extra barriers former convicts face can lead to extended punishment even after people have been released, Crozier added.

“The lack of being prepared to return to the community actually becomes a community safety issue. We know that communities are safer when people can feel that they belong, like they have a voice in the community and they can be themselves and fully participate,” she said, noting that support programs lower the risk of reoffending.

For employers who may be looking to hire someone returning to the community, there may need to be some flexibility involved including allowing time for appointments to maintain parole or probation requirements, Diebold explained.

“They will need support like orientation and training into those roles so that they have a good foundation. They may need some educational support like training in specific areas, and employers are looking for that.”

Crozier encourages potential employers to contact CJI with any questions they may have and even visit the prison with them to build connections.

“We’d love for them to come inside with us, meet some of the people that we get to meet and talk to them firsthand around their employment needs and how they might be able to make a partnership out of that.”

; ;

Share on


Bill Atwood

Bill Atwood is a full-time journalist / photographer at The Observer.