Communities make systems change

Posted on: November 23rd, 2016 By: Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council

Turn the Page Book Club with Diane SchoemperlenAll of the calls to action already mentioned in the previous blog posts (humanizing people in prison & advocating for programs that work) help to create and strengthen system change in big and small ways. The work of larger structural change is long term, often slow work: Not for the faint of heart, but everyone can still play a role.

Here are a few ways you or your friends can contribute toward society and system changes.

  • Male Allies Against Sexual Violence – Through public education, the Male Allies program invites men and boys to be leaders in the work of ending gender-based violence. Their goal is to encourage critical introspection in men and boys, which begins by helping them to understand gender-based violence as a men’s issue. Over the past eight years, they have offered hundreds of workshops to thousands of men and boys and have just started a ground-breaking training initiative with the Ontario Hockey League.
  • Learn more about the root causes of crime. In order to prevent something, it’s important to understand the contributing factors. As a community, we have the responsibility to address these conditions which hinder healthy development and can lead to criminal behaviour.
  • Learn more about Smart on Crime approaches to addressing crime. Everyone has heard about tough on crime, but what about Smart on Crime? As a community, we can use language that shows we can build a community that is safe and vibrant for all people living in Waterloo Region.
  • Follow the advocacy work of Howard Sapers – Until recently, Howard Sapers was the Correctional Investigator of Canada responsible for the investigation of individual and systemic concerns. He was also a guest for a 2015 Friends of Crime Prevention event. On November 8, the Ontario Government appointed Mr. Sapers to be an independent advisor on corrections reform and to provide advice to the government on the use of segregation and ways to improve the province’s adult corrections system.

When we have people and community organizations working at all three areas of action to humanize people in prison and reduce stigma for loved ones, advocate for programs that work and enter into deeper levels of system and societal change, we can move the needle on progressive change.

If you decide to take some action, we would love to hear about it – 6 weeks from now, or 6 months from now! Get in touch with Juanita Metzger to share your story.

Advocate for programs that work

Posted on: November 23rd, 2016 By: Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council

Turn the Page Book Club with Diane SchoemperlenInevitably, the Turn the Page book club discussions turned to the support provided to people in prison while they serve their sentences and the programs and support available during parole or upon release. Many people in attendance admitted to not knowing the reality facing people on the ‘inside’.

The past 5-7 years have seen a cut in federal funding to several prison support programs (inside and outside prisons) that have shown to be effective in reducing recidivism, building skills for reintegration and providing support to some of the most stigmatized prisoners, people who have sexually offended.

You might be interested in supporting these programs with a donation to keep them going. Or, as someone suggested at the book club event, you might want to write a letter to your Member of Parliament advocating for increased funding to support these valuable programs.

  • Lifeline provides support and transitional housing to men who have served a life sentence as they prepare for reintegration into our communities. Funding for this program was cut in 2012/2013. Some Lifeline programs are still offered through various St. Leonard Society organizations.
  • Circles of Support and Accountability is a Canadian-made restorative justice program for men and women who have committed serious sexual offences. CoSA allows the community to play a direct role in the restoration, reintegration, and risk management of people who are often seen with only fear and anger. COSA experienced the same severe federal funding cuts as Lifeline in 2014 and has spent a great deal of time figuring out how to support a nation-wide program of COSA chapters. They have even some sample letters already prepared which you could use to advocate for reinstated funding for COSA.
  • Prison farms have been a part of 6 federal prison institutions since the establishment of correctional facilities in Canada. They were defunded and closed by the federal government between 2009 – 2013. Prison farms provided beneficial employability and training opportunities, time management and responsibility skills, animal therapy, productive labour and physical exercise, access to nature, individual and team building work, and training in farm management and operation. There are many advocating for the return of prison farms as a prosocial training opportunity for inmates. Project Soil published an excellent case study of the prison farms at Frontenac and Pittsburgh Institutions, both Correctional Services of Canada facilities in Ontario.
  • Here is a 59 minute film about prison farms in Canada – Til the Cows Come Home.

If you’re super keen, someone suggested having a letter writing party – invite your friends, invite your neighbours!

There are certainly more prisoner support programs that are proven to work, but these three were discussion specifically at the event.

Also check out the call to action for humanizing people in prison and reducing stigma for families and loved ones and opportunities to be involved in systems and societal changes.

Ways to humanize people in prison & reduce the stigma of loved ones

Posted on: November 23rd, 2016 By: Juanita Metzger

Turn the Page Book Club with Diane SchoemperlenThe Turn the Page book club stimulated a great deal of discussion about the stigma. Society, in general, has a negative stigma against people that have been in prison and often their family member and children too.

People began to ask questions: How do we change this attitude in society and within ourselves? Given that we have a federal prison for women right here in Waterloo Region, how can we help within our own community? How can we get involved?

We’ve pulled together a range of potential ‘calls to action’ that help to humanize people in prison & reduce the stigma of loved ones. As Diane and the panelists reminded us, people in prison will leave prison when their sentences end and return to our communities. Reintegration to life on the ‘outside’ doesn’t happen by magic.

There are countless ways to be involved, likely more than we have to share, but here’s a start.

To start.. Read the Book! If you didn’t get a chance the first time around, it’s still available to borrow at KPL, WPL and Cambridge or get it for sale at Wordsworth Books in Waterloo. We developed a reading guide that might be helpful for checking some of your assumptions and thinking broadly about this issues Diane challenges us with.

If you have a book club, get them to read the book too! We’ve even created a handy Reading Guide to accompany the book.

One of the best ways to start in this area is to work directly with or support the organizations that work with inmates and their families.

  • STRIDE is a program of Community Justice Initiatives. STRIDE helps women in prison build informal networks of support that assist them as they reintegrate back to the community. They also prepare the community to receive them safely and supportively. CJI has several other programs that offer support to offenders.
  • John Howard Society Waterloo-Wellington offers diverse prevention, diversion, intervention and educational services for children, youth and adults who are in conflict with the law or at risk of getting there.
  • Elizabeth Fry Society for Kitchener Waterloo provides gender-specific services, support and advocacy for women within the community, involved in a judicial process or who are serving sentences at Grand Valley Institution for Women, a federal prison for women located in Kitchener.
  • Volunteer at Grand Valley Institution – The Correctional Service of Canada has a volunteer program that works directly with recreational activities, classroom and workshop instruction, and cultural or chaplaincy activities and supports families of offenders or helping released offenders re-adjust to life.

These are all very different volunteer opportunities and if you are very interested, best to do the research and find the best fit for you and your interests. You might discover that you prefer a community based approach rather than a formal institutional setting.

Check out the ‘calls to action’ related to advocating for programs that work and creating system change.

When a book club leads to community action

Posted on: November 23rd, 2016 By: Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council

Turn the Page Book Club with Diane SchoemperlenAt first glance, Diane Schoemperlen’s memoir “This Is Not My Life: A Memoir of Love, Prison, and Other Complications” seems straight forward, in its own way, the stuff of TV shows and movies….  An author meets a fellow volunteer at a Kingston soup kitchen whom she knows has been is in prison, they become friends, they eventually develop an intimate partner relationship, they try to navigate the world inside prison and outside prison, they try to manage life together on the outside, the author leaves the relationship that has become abusive and spends the next six years healing and putting her life back together.

After spending an evening with Diane at the Turn the Page Book Club hosted by the Friends of Crime Prevention we have a deeper understanding of the complexity of this story. The story of their relationship covers tough issues tied to root causes of crime, such as family violence, sexual violence, and problematic substance use. Schoemperlen is unflinching in assessing her own motivations for staying in the relationship, as she comes to know the shadow and stigma that institutionalization casts over inmates and their loved ones.

Maybe slightly unorthodox for your average book club, Friends also brought together a community panel of Jennifer Hutton (Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region), Chris Cowie (Community Justice Initiatives) and Shannon Moroney, author of Through the Glass to discuss the themes of the book in more depth and draw some direct applications to our community.

From the discussions between Diane & the panelist and the question/answer period with the community readers, we covered more content and topics than your average university course! Discussion ranged from childhood abuse/trauma to incarceration rates, from restorative justice to the lack of helpful prison programs, from reintegration challenges for released inmates to stigma faced by loved ones and family members of inmates, from abusive relationships to support networks for families of inmates, from the prison industrial complex to… well, I think you get the idea. Diane’s is a personal story that shines a light, not only on her own experience, but deftly directs a laser beam at the prison system in Canada. Diane skillfully tells a political story through her own story – a story that concerns us all.

Over the course of the discussion, people began to ask questions: What we can do to change a system that is clearly not working? Given that we have a federal prison for women right here in Waterloo Region, how can we help within our own community? How can we get involved?

We’ve pulled together a range of potential ‘calls to action’ and avenues for participating in creating change. Clicking on the links here will get you started.

If you decide to take some action, we would love to hear about it! Get in touch with Juanita Metzger to share your story.

Prisons, Justice and Love: Turn the Page Book Club hosted by Friends of Crime Prevention

Posted on: November 16th, 2016 By: Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council

When you host a public book club, you just never know how things will unfold, much less when you host one with the title “Prisons, Justice and Love”! But we couldn’t have had a more engaging night if we had tried!

Friends of Crime Prevention were pleased to host the first ever “Turn the Page” Book Club with Diane Schoemperlen in November 2016. Scroll through the photos below for a short photo essay of the evening together with community partners, neighbours and Friends.

Turn the Page Book Club with Diane Schoemperlen

This is not my life by Diane Schoemperlen – our first book club selection for the Turn the Page Book Club focused on prisons, justice and love. A very entangled combination!

Turn the Page Book Club with Diane Schoemperlen

Friends of Crime Prevention, Jenn Robinson (middle) and Lisa Armstrong (right) were the most friendly greeters! Great to see so many new faces.

Turn the Page Book Club with Diane Schoemperlen

As people gathered for the evening, Friends of Crime Prevention had the opportunity to let us know why they are a Friend. Jeanean Thomas – because I care about my community

Turn the Page Book Club with Diane Schoemperlen

As people gathered for the evening, Friends of Crime Prevention had the opportunity to let us know why they are a Friend.
Pari Karem – Why not?!

Turn the Page Book Club with Diane Schoemperlen

Thanks to John and Wordsworth Books for bringing extra copies of Diane’s book for sale!

Turn the Page Book Club with Diane Schoemperlen

The inaugural Turn the Page Book Club was held at Fresh Ground, a new cafe & community space developed by The Working Centre.

Turn the Page Book Club with Diane Schoemperlen

48 people gather to hear Diane read from her new book “This is Not My Life: A Memoir of Love, Prison, and other Complications.

Turn the Page Book Club with Diane Schoemperlen

Diane reads the first line of the her book, a first line she is quite proud of! You’ll have to read the book to find out why this line still makes her laugh! Or listen to her interview with The Current on CBC Radio where the host reads it out loud.

Turn the Page Book Club with Diane Schoemperlen

Diane reading some of the more emotionally challenging parts from her book.

Turn the Page Book Club with Diane Schoemperlen

People came prepared! Many had read the book and had very insightful questions. Others came because of the topic, but bought the book by the end of the night!

Turn the Page Book Club with Diane Schoemperlen

In addition to a talk and reading by Diane, we invited additional panel members from the community & beyond to complement the discussion of prisons, justice, stigma and relationships. From left: Mike Farwell, Moderator; Diane Schoemperlen, Author; Jen Hutton, Women’s Crisis Services Waterloo Region, Shannon Moroney, Author of Through the Glass; Chris Cowie, ED Community Justice Initiatives

Turn the Page Book Club with Diane Schoemperlen

A very intent and listening audience!

Turn the Page Book Club with Diane Schoemperlen

Chris Cowie from Community Justice Initiatives shared about the agency’s Restorative Justice mandate and how a more restorative process in prisons could help in countless ways i.e. better integration into society upon release, deeper understanding of the nature of offending, development of new skills to deal with conflict. Teaching and using restorative justice early can also be a prevention tool.

Turn the Page Book Club with Diane Schoemperlen

With all the new faces in the audience, it was a great opportunity for many to learn about w hat it means to be a Friend of Crime Prevention!

Turn the Page Book Club with Diane Schoemperlen

It only take a few minutes to become a Friend of Crime Prevention – just like Jen Hutton!

Turn the Page Book Club with Diane Schoemperlen

Both Diane and Shannon took time to sign books for anyone who wanted. Also a chance for great conversations.

Turn the Page Book Club with Diane Schoemperlen

Diane and Shannon proudly display their “I am a Friend” buttons. Diane and Shannon were made honorary Friends and join Howard Sapers and Sir Neville, a guide dog, as Honorary Friends of Crime Prevention.

Turn the Page Book Club with Diane Schoemperlen

It was very special to have Shannon and Dianne together in the same evening. Shannon acted as a mentor to Diane during the writing of This is Not My Life. Shannon wrote her book Through the Glass about the life upheaval after husband confessed to the sexual assault and kidnapping of two women. Both Diane and Shannon have rich stories from which our community can learn so much! Diane and Shannon are pictured with Sarah Anderson, event organizer and facilitator from the Crime Prevention Council.

From one who knows: Reflection on Prevention, Prisons & Popcorn with Howard Sapers

Posted on: September 16th, 2015 By: Juanita Metzger

One of the most anticipated highlights of our year happened last week. In case you happened to  miss it (?!) – although, I’m not sure how you could – Howard Sapers was in town. Yes, THE Howard Sapers. Federal Correctional Investigator for Canada and ombudsman for federally sentenced offenders.

We partnered with Kitchener Public Library as part of their new 85 Queen Speaker Series to host this event and filled the auditorium with 230 people from our community. The action packed evening included a screening of the film “State of Incarceration”, a keynote address by Howard Sapers and a panel discussion with community members, including a formerly incarcerated woman from Grand Valley Institution for Women.

We have a video coming soon of Mr. Sapers’ keynote talk, but in the meantime, you can read his presentation here to catch all the incredible stats and stories he shared that night. He really does effectively paint a vivid picture about the state of Canadian prisons in 2015.

While you wait impatiently for the video, I”ll leave you with these two reflections from two currently incarcerated women from Grand Valley Institution for Women who attend the event. You’ll understand why it was such a big night.

Julie writes:

“I attended the forum for Friends of Crime Prevention, on September 10, 2015.  I cannot begin to tell you how refreshing it is that discussions such as this are taking place. I was both shocked and pleasantly surprised at the amount of progressive people who attended the forum.  There are faces and lives associated with the disturbing statistics Mr. Saper spoke of – mine is one of them.  I was one of two currently incarcerated women at the event, with the Walls to Bridges Collective. Too often incarcerated people are treated as the rejects of society, disposable even, and let’s face it – advocating for us is not at the top of almost all priority lists.  I firmly believe that many incarcerated people would not be in the criminal justice system to begin with, if they had been afforded access to and utilized stronger and earlier preventative measures through social intervention and more accessible social and health services; myself included.  Sadly, I did not consider the flaws in our systems until I was directly affected. Now that I am, however, I cannot turn a blind eye to them anymore, not just for myself, but for the staggering amount of other people making up those statistics, and for those yet to come.  I am relieved to know I am not alone in this quest.  All human life has value – thank you for making “out of sight” not be “out of mind” anymore. The forum helped to humanize us and highlight some of the injustices of our daily reality. I left with a renewed sense of hope and purpose. I am thankful that this forum created a safe place for people to come together, ask questions, and push boundaries. To evoke much needed change will require more bridges to be built than walls. We have a long way to go, but I am hopeful that just as a storm starts with a single raindrop, so too does change start with forums such as this one.”

Denise writes:

Just as the world will always remember September 11, 2001, in a negative light, Thursday, September 10, 2015 will be etched in my mind for as long as I exist as an achievement to social awareness.  You see, since my incarceration it was the only day in which I came in contact with people besides volunteers and members of the Walls to Bridges group and voice my dilemma while feeling safe to bare my soul.  Mr. Howard Sapers provided statistics that were both daunting and hopeful. Information on how tax dollars are truly spent to build and house a growing prison population at a time where the crime rate for the past decade plus has been on the decline. I am part of those statistics and Canada is following the footsteps of the failed American system that ex President Bill Clinton and present sitting President Barak Obama stated ‘is not working’. The large majority of incarcerated people will be released and upon their discharge, are expected to function and contribute to the same society that deemed them as criminals. If education is at least a gateway to success, incarcerated people need more training to learn and utilize skills and tools required to help them successfully add to the fabric of society’s fast paced, ever changing existence. Prevention, Prisons & Popcorn at Kitchen Public Library was a forum that brought together a community of progressive thinking people aware of the challenges society will surely be faced with once the voiceless, faceless people are unconstrained. An awareness of prisons and the need for community inclusion upon the release of prisoners are part of an encompassing subject tax payers don’t realize every member of a community may be accountable for.  After someone goes from inmate to civilian because they have paid their dues to a faulty justice system and they no longer live in the past where they made poor choices, when do they get a fair shot at being seen in a new light? There needs to be more discussions such as the one Prevention, Prisons & Popcorn opened up where communities are aware of their interconnectedness to their surroundings, even their walled surroundings.

Yep, it was that kind of night.

Guiding Rage into Power

Posted on: June 30th, 2014 By: Smart on Crime

We believe in just and humane approaches to crime and its consequences. It says so right in our organizational value statements. And we love it when we can point to other examples of people and organizations walking the talk on this value.

Insight-Out shows that personal transformation can be a powerful force for rehabilitation before punishment. In the United States, “the system profits by its own failure’, remarks Jacques Verduin, Insight-Out founder & facilitator. And he vows to change that, person by person with a year long program called GRIP.

Does society really benefit if we abandon people in prison? What does ‘ just and humane approaches to crime and its consequences’ look like to you? What does it look like in Canada?

Read a full article about Insight-Out on the Daily Good – Guidng Rage into Power.

There’ s always more to learn

Posted on: March 27th, 2014 By: Dianne Heise

I agree with the sayings – ‘there’s always more to learn’ and ‘it’s never too late to learn.’

I lived this out when I returned to university for a Masters degree the same year my daughter started university. Luckily she wasn’t too embarrassed to be at school with her mom. My timing turned out to be perfect for another reason as well. During my time in school I had the amazing opportunity to be involved with the research and evaluation of the innovative and highly successful gang prevention project, inREACH. I can guarantee you; I learned something new every day.

An excellent summary of the evaluation report for inREACH highlights a LOT of really important learning and accomplishments as a result of this collective community effort over the past few years. Sharing our story: Lessons learned from the inREACH experience describes how the project was implemented, the young people it served in the treatment and prevention programs, and the many positive impacts of the project on young people, neighbourhoods, organizations and the community as a whole.

Sun shining through basketball hoopThe most important lessons and understandings learned from inREACH will inspire community action toward a future where all young people feel part of a caring community and have the opportunities and the supports they need and deserve. But, any evaluation isn’t even worth the paper it’s printed on if it just sits on a shelf. We need to apply the evaluation findings so that we can affirm what might already work but also make changes where needed.

 Here are 3 key things we learned from the inREACH experience that could help us more effectively engage young people who are marginalized and better address their needs.

It Works!

Shoes on pavement Some believe that teenagers – particularly those labelled as “trouble” – don’t want to be involved in community activities or mentoring relationships with adults. The evaluation busts that myth by demonstrating very clearly – that if organizations and communities take the right approach – then many adolescents and young adults, will participate in asset building activities like arts and sports.  Many will also seek assistance for challenges they face with things like addictions, gang involvement or finding a job or a home, when they have developed a trusting relationship with an adult who meets them ‘where they’re at.’ The evaluation results also clearly demonstrated that when young people got involved in their communities and received help with life challenges, they experienced many positive benefits and changes. Over 95 % of youth agreed their involvement “helped them move in the direction in life they wanted to go.” For example, youth said:

“they taught me to actually think before I acted…just keeping my cool overall and staying relaxed and not being so stressed out.”

“It helped me see the value of myself.”

Learning what it takes – with youth

HopscotchSharing our Story describes key elements of the inREACH approach that was so successful. It took

  • the development of trusting relationships between staff and young people;
  • listening to the youth and involving them in decision-making,
  • recognizing youths’ strengths, skills, and interests, and
  • making programs and services more accessible.

The evaluation report fleshes out some details of HOW to implement these approaches, which is the challenging part.

One illustration follows: 

“I don’t think that they have ever had an adult say “what are your dreams?” and “how are you going to achieve those?” and then try to help them… That is my biggest question when I first meet a kid….it gets them thinking…. Then believing in them too and showing them you really care.” (Project staff)

Learning what it takes – the community’s role

inREACH was a collaborative venture of multiple organizations. The evaluation documents how these partnerships enabled organizations to work together more effectively, to work with youth in a different way, to access more services and resources and to “produce systemic change – changes in the way systems and organizations in the community approached the problem of gangs and at-risk youth.” (p 10)

Feedback to Community

It was important to report back to people who shared their thoughts and stories of involvement so I returned to many of the neighbourhood programs. Young people were keen to take the summary booklets and some were excited to see their own photographs featured there. Some youth who had been interviewed wanted the full 140 page version, partly to see if they were quoted there. There was a sense of pride for what they had created and accomplished and some commented on the huge difference the programs made in their lives.

GraffitiContinuing the Learning

We know that if fewer adolescents and young adults experienced marginalization due to where they live or the challenges they face, then fewer young people would be attracted to gangs as a solution to their problems or to find a sense of belonging. So, it begs the question…. What should the community take forward from this youth gang prevention project?

There’s so much to talk about – outreach, social media, a youth engagement approach, new ways of collaborating across agencies, the role of neighbourhood community centres….

We look forward to working with our community to keep learning, but also move the learning to action. The upcoming event “Engaging marginalized youth” will help us do just that and you can join us on Friday April 11, 2014. Registration is required for the event and you can register here. [UPDATE: this event is now SOLD OUT. You can still register but you will be added to the wait list in case of cancelations.]

There’s always more to learn…

Photo Credits: all photos taken by inREACH youth during PhotoVoice projects. 2012



Trent’s Trajectory: The dollars & ‘sense’ of crime prevention

Posted on: March 25th, 2014 By: Anthony Piscitelli

Infographic: Trent's Trajectory

Trent’s Trajectory is fictional account of a sixteen year old teenager as he becomes an adult. The infographic, created by Wade Thompson, begins by discussing the risk and resiliency factors Trent faces. The story then branches into two paths. In the first path, Trent does not receive community supports and his risk factors drive the story culminating in a three year prison sentence. In the second path, Trent receives supports from the inREACH project. His resilience factors grow and Trent successfully transitions into adulthood.

Typical stories from the justice system and the inREACH program build Trent’s fictional story. Due to space constraints the ‘current path’ contains less minor crimes than would be expected from a repeat young offender and a few more serious ones. While this slightly changes the story, the overall justice system costs are realistic. It is important to note, while the story is specifically about the inREACH program similar outcomes can be reached for at risk youth in many other prevention programs.

Does this raise any questions for you? What do we do with this information now that inREACH has ended?

Smart on Crime in the U.S. of A.

Posted on: March 10th, 2014 By: Smart on Crime

When United States Attorney General Eric Holder made gave his “Smart on Crime” remarks to the American Bar Association’s Annual Convention in San Francisco on August 12, 2013, it “launched a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system in order to identify reforms that would ensure federal laws are enforced more fairly and—in an era of reduced budgets—more efficiently”.

If you’ve been following the ‘smart on crime’ news from the United States since then, it appears they are leaving few stones unturned. In the case of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses, there seems to be a lot of evidenced-based research to support their justice reform directions.

As an example, take a look at these Federal Bureau of Prisons infographic charts in a recent Huffington Post article on the impact of prison overcrowding:

U.S. Prison Population As Of Jan. 25, 2014

US prison population


US prison population by offence

Data is limited due to the availability of offense-specific information.

US prison drug type

See the full article here.