moved that Bill C-228, an act to establish a federal framework to reduce recidivism, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great joy to rise this evening to speak on behalf of my private member's bill, Bill C-228, an act to establish a federal framework to reduce recidivism.
For those who may not be aware, recidivism is defined as “The tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend”. We know that nearly one in four, 25%, of those who have been released from federal prison end up back in federal prison within two years, and the rates among indigenous communities is nearly 40%. It is also a sad reality that the children of those incarcerated are seven times more likely to become incarcerated themselves. We must stop this cycle
The bill is not about reducing sentences or the amount of time served. The bill aims to address the ever-revolving door within our prison system and break this perilous cycle that sees individuals consistently reoffend. Lasting societal change can only be accomplished when we work across different sectors to come to meaningful solutions. We must find partners of like mind that will look at this and say it is a problem we can all address, whether they be at the governmental level, in the private sector, with non-profits and NGOs, in faith-based communities or indigenous communities, those who have a desire to see this revolving door stopped and the cycle broken.
I believe this bill would provide a framework for not only that discussion and dialogue to begin in earnest, but also enable some potential pilot programs to be launched across this country based on best practices and models that have been rolled out in other jurisdictions.
I will never forget my first time visiting a federal prison. I would like to think I am still somewhat of a young man, but in my younger years I was travelling with gentleman by the name of Monty Lewis. Monty ran a local non-profit organization in my area that worked with those who were incarcerated and their families.
He said something to me that day on the way to the prison that has always stuck with me. He said I would never be in a place where there was a higher concentration of the worst kinds of dysfunction, symptoms of societal and family breakdown, violence, victims and perpetrators of abuse, addiction, emotional and mental heath-related struggles, and so much more, than could be found within the walls of the place we were visiting that day. He then went on to point out that I would also never visit a place where I would find a greater opportunity to witness the powerful effect of what hope, compassion, forgiveness, encouragement and the opportunity for another chance can do.
I have seen, personally witnessed, some tremendous working models, at various stages of development, that are seeing good results. There have been pilot projects, some of which I have witnessed and visited, and policies that have been tried around the world, some of which I would like to see more of and have all of us hear more about. We can look them and perhaps pattern after or adopt some of those best practices to help establish a national framework that combines the best practices from all around the world.
I think of one, for example, in the U.K. that has been referred to as the “Peterborough model”. It incorporated 14 different service providers. It made several initial contacts with social workers, employers, private sector developers and skills developers. They worked with them while they were still in prison and upon release, after their time had been served. They also piloted some unique social finance programming and initiatives, things like social impact bonds. They successfully implemented that program and incorporated private investment, and obviously local authorities and law enforcement, and had all these different sectors working together to have a good outcome. They saw a 9% reduction in the rates of reoffending. It is a really good news story and I think there are some things that perhaps we could look at in that model.
I will refer to another one, which is a model in the “get tough on crime” state of Texas, of all places. There were some who were part of a smart justice type of initiative, where a non-profit organization worked at helping those who had been released from prison or were getting out of prison. It mentored them, sometimes while they were still in prison, for periods of up to 18 months and continued this program post-release for another 12 months.
What happened was it helped to integrate back into community, developed necessary skills, helped people find job placements, get back into community and find support groups. It involved regular checkups. At the two-year point, it did a review and when it looked at the rate, they were 60% less likely to be reincarcerated. That is a true good news story.
In fact, the lady who championed this is Tina Naidoo. I happen to know her personally now. I met her through my previous work in the non-profit sector. In 2016, then President Obama, awarded her a champion of change award from the White House for the great work she and her organization were doing. It was effective partnerships through private sector, government and local non-profits. It had some great results.
Those are a couple of examples of models we perhaps could look into and maybe implement them as pilots or similar-type initiatives with some great Canadian input, non-profit service providers and local private sector employers, working in conjunction with provincial governments to help roll out some of these across the country to see if we could see our rates of recidivism start to drop quickly.
I base all of this on that principle of three. It has been known and it has been out there for some time. If members have not heard it, it kind of helps make this stick.
The first three minutes after people are released from prison, it is so important they have someone trustworthy to meet them at the gate to start that reintegration back into community process. Within three hours, it is trying to enure they have living arrangements in place and good support networks available to them to help them make that transition. Within three days, life skills development, employment and other addiction-type programs, whatever may be needed, could be getting under way.
Within three weeks, hopefully there is some form of education completion or maybe they are starting a job somewhere with a great job placement. As we know, many people who are released from prison have a criminal record and it is hard for them to find meaningful employment. Then within three months, there should be remarkable and notable progress, with transitions starting to take place. Over three years, we hope to see a tremendous change and a life well on its way to wholeness and now helping others to make a successful transition.
I have received widespread support for the bill from representatives from all relevant stakeholders. One is former lieutenant governor of New Brunswick, former provincial court judge and former chair of native studies at St. Thomas University, the Hon. Graydon Nicholas. He said, “this bill is a step toward helping the walking wounded in our society.”
Former minister of public safety for New Brunswick and retired police officer, the Hon. Carl Urquhart, said, “through collaboration and consultation, as outlined by [the member's] bill, relevant stakeholders will provide key insights in the development, and ultimately, implementation of a federal framework that is effective in reducing recidivism in a measurable way.”
Executive Director of the John Howard Society Catherine Latimer said, “This bill would allow many Canadians concerned about the waste of lives and resources resulting from inadequate supports for those returning to community and help develop a framework to reduce recidivism.”
Mitch MacMillan, a retired police chief from our region and RCMP officer of 35 years as well as a former member of the national Parole Board of Canada, gave this bill his full endorsement and said, “I would like to encourage you to continue on this path as I feel it is certainly needed to ensure that focus is maintained.”
I would also like to refer to a local businessman, farmer and egg producer in my community, David Coburn. He is an apple grower and an egg producer. He has on several occasions, in conjunction with a local non-profit, the Village of Hope, provided meaningful employment opportunities for men who were in transition in that program. He helped in their finding meaningful employment and developing valuable skills. He is very much in favour of initiatives like this.
There is a desire among many of the relevant stakeholder groups to work together to find a solution and establish a federal framework based on best practices around the world. The key will be to study the results of any pilot project that is developed. This is so we can evaluate what works and what does not work and how we can work together with the various stakeholder groups to come to a national framework in conjunction with provincial and territorial jurisdictions.
I would like to say, as I move to close, that the gentleman I was referring to earlier, Monty Lewis, has now passed. His story is remarkable and has had a big impact on my life. He grew up in Cape Breton in very challenging circumstances. His dad was a coal miner. As he grew up, he got around some not-so-pleasant influences in his life and started down a pathway of substance abuse and addiction. It started to lead to criminal activity and he ended up doing time in prison. In fact, through various times spent inside, he eventually ended up in the Kingston Penitentiary. His story is encapsulated in the book he wrote several years ago, called The Caper.
Monty found himself in a very dark place. In fact, he was suicidal and, at one point in the hold of a prison cell, he tells this story. There came a chaplain down into the hold of the prison cell where he was, to make his rounds and visit. Of course, Monty, in a dark place, started swearing at him and cursing, and was not very nice to him. He wanted him to be gone, but the chaplain kept on visiting. He kept coming back. Monty would describe him as a messenger of hope at just the right time.
After a time, Monty's life began to change and he started looking at his life differently. He got released and he went to work. He ended up meeting the love of his life, Lynda. He had this ember in his heart. He said that he wanted to start an organization or a group that would provide support for others, like him, who have been inside and are coming out, and that he wanted to help them be able to have the supports that they need. He founded an organization along with his wife to help those who were transitioning from incarceration back into the community. They started on a shoestring budget and just did the best that they could to help.
I must say I cannot think of a better way to pay tribute to the legacy of my friend Monty than by implementing this national framework for an overall reduction in recidivism. By doing this, I believe we, as parliamentarians, are helping to foster an atmosphere through which many other Montys and Lyndas can be afforded another opportunity to realize their potential and achieve their dreams. The impact of Monty's and Lynda's lives has gone far beyond their humble beginnings and regrettable decisions.
I cannot help but wonder how many others are out there, needing the power of a second chance, needing simply someone else to believe in them and believe that their story is far greater than the regrettable decisions that they had made at some point in the past, that their life will no longer be forever defined by what was or what once happened or the wrongs that they have committed, but instead, their lives will be transformed through the power of what new opportunities and a fresh start can afford.
We have an opportunity, with this bill, to provide a bridge of hope to those who need it most, an outstretched hand to those who feel left behind and a pathway forward for some of the most marginalized and vulnerable among us. We, together, can end the spiralling cycle of recidivism by providing the most powerful agent of change in our world, and that is hope.