Community support for incarcerated women

I’ve been looking a lot at the Canadian justice system and have been frustrated by our government’s stubborn commitment to pursue agendas that may sound good to voters but are destructive for the people directly affected. So it was refreshing and encouraging today to learn about a great program that is actively doing positive things for prisoners.

Stride is a program within Kitchener-Waterloo’s Community Justice Initiative which supports federally sentenced women coming out of the Grand Valley prison into the KW community. They use community engagement and circles of support to provide care and support for women who face so many obstacles when leaving prison and trying to build a new life for themselves.

Most women in prison, and those who are coming out of prison, are isolated and stigmatized. The vast majority have been physically and/or sexually abused. Most were unemployed at the time of their offence; two-thirds have not completed high school. 85% of incarcerated women are mothers.  It is naive and unrealistic to expect that these women can leave the harsh prison environment and seamlessly integrate into communities.

Stride matches trained community volunteers with women wanting support with re-entering the community. By having community support and caring volunteers encircling them, women have a much better chance of not only staying crime-free, but also improving their lives.

One aspect of the program which is really interesting is called the ‘Stride Night Program’ in which community volunteers and local agencies go inside the prison walls to participate in evenings of crafts, sports, games and socializing. These evenings provide opportunities for inmates and community members to build relationships that can be so important and helpful for women’s community integration.

For anyone near Kitchener, I encourage you to check out RareFunk, a consignment store in the downtown that supports the female inmates by selling ‘Fresh Start Creations’ – the crafts and art which female inmates create. Through the proceeds from these sales, these women are able to give back to the KW region by donating to local women’s or children’s charities.

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About Anita Grace
I'm a PhD student in Law and Legal Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa. I am committed to social justice and informed, effective approaches to inequality and injustice.

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