Last year 358 sentenced offenders were released from custody from all adult facilities in the NWT. Those previously incarcerated people, men and women, once out in the community face the difficulties of obtaining employment because of their criminal history.

It’s a well-studied fact that individuals with a criminal background who are unemployed are more likely to re-offend compared to those who are employed. So when the Yellowknife Women’s Society (YWS) received anonymous letters regarding an ex-offender it employed, a very good question came to the forefront– why was the organization employing ex-offenders?

The YWS operates a number of community-based support agencies and programs under its auspices in the city, including Yellowknife Housing First, Yellowknife Work Ready (Common Ground) and the Street Outreach program.

For these programs, the society undertakes an “individualized approach” to hiring. Executive director Bree Denning says allowing residents with criminal records to be employed in certain positions helps someone with a criminal background to contribute to their community in a meaningful way.

Denning emphasized that the employees with criminal histories are prohibited from working in the group’s daycare and are never alone with anybody.

These type of programs, including the Volunteer Work to Elders and Community Labour to Non-Profit Agencies re-integration work-release programs run by the North Slave Correctional Centre (NSCC), provide a holistic approach in the community’s efforts to break the cycle of crime and poverty in this city.

Considering a qualified ex-offender for employment is a good investment and provides an opportunity for many with criminal backgrounds to become productive citizens and providers for their families.

Recidivism, (the tendency of a convicted criminal to re-offend) has been the main outcome measured in most evaluations of jail and post-release employment programs. Research from the federal Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness shows that, “Managed offender reentry processes and programs … may offer a cost effective way of preventing crime.”

Outside employment programs in the city for ex-offenders, many of whom served short-term prison terms or extended terms of remand in custody, provide opportunities – that often NSCC can’t provide – for successful treatment and interventions to prevent future recidivism.

If the statistics are correct there were close to 240 jobs available in the North in 2018 where “no minimum level of education” was required to gain employment.

With one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, the territorial government should be working toward the implementation of some form of work opportunity tax credit for businesses to further encourage the hiring of qualified ex-offenders.

In the Northwest Territories the price tag to incarcerate one inmate is $102,200 a year as compared to the $71,540 Canadian average. Considering, as well, that a high percentage of the territory’s jail is filled with prisoners on remand who are awaiting sentencing, bail hearings or awaiting trial, there is a real problem with our system. Work and rebate programs could go a long way in solving the sheer expense of jailing an offender and could lead to fixing some of the other social issues the city faces on its streets every day.

The Yellowknife Women’s society has built up a reputation in the community for helping people and that includes those with a troubled past. It isn’t the type of organization that will pay six-figure salaries so it makes the best decisions it can with the budget it receives to fill its employment needs.

We say good for them for employing disadvantaged people and working to make this city a better place for everyone.

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