In the May 13th edition of the Edmonton Journal, it was stated that 70 per cent of prisoners in Alberta are in the Edmonton Remand Centre – the highest rate in Canada.
At the Community Village, we see some of the folks who are released from the Remand Centre and who often come here with nothing – no required documentation, no ID, no clothes, no job, no home. We have figured out that the close proximity of the Remand Centre to St. Albert may be a contributing factor in their decision to come here as we are only about eight minutes away by car.
While there is not a significant number of our homeless who are being released from Remand Centre, there are enough to motivate us to take a closer look at the system they are leaving. We were very fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit the Centre in 2018 to see what they provided in terms of discharge planning. We discovered there really isn’t a consistent discharge planning process. This may be due to a variety of factors: limited professional resources, the constant turnover of inmates, as well as the lack of knowledge or awareness by the inmates of the resources available to them.
During our visit to the Remand Centre, we learned there are a number of “pods” in the Centre and the various services and programs rotate through the pods. If an inmate is at the centre long enough he or she may be able to meet with a social worker or receive assistance with identification, for example, but there is no formal process to ensure inmates receive these supports. This means that if they do not have an external support unit (family/friends) able to help them when they leave, chances are they will (hopefully) arrive on our doorstep.
We are fortunate to have a number of strong partners willing to step up and provide wrap-around services to those folks leaving the Remand Centre without a plan. We are in the beginning stages of forming a “re-integration program” where a group of professionals will meet to discuss a client’s outstanding issues such as no money, no clothes, no job, no home, no mental health and addictions counselling in place. A collaborative plan of action will be developed geared toward helping that individual successfully re-establish themselves into the community.
There is a re-integration team in Edmonton through the Mustard Seed and we can learn from them but the expectation should not be to send our folks to Edmonton to receive assistance – they are St. Albert residents and should be able to receive assistance and support to stay in their own community.
The wrap-around team will work together for as long as it takes to ensure the client has all of the tools they need to start again. Is success guaranteed? No, but the effort will certainly be put forward by all involved. Successful re-integration will help to rebuild diminished self-esteem and support folks to access stable housing and support to re-enter the work force. The hope is that having a stable place to live will help them to stop re-offending and reduce neighbourhood crime.
Suzan Krecsy is the director of the St. Albert Food Bank.