A youth-driven organization committed to keeping young offenders out of the criminal justice system is in desperate need of funding.
Redemption Reintegration Services (RRS) received $3.5 million from the Youth Challenge Fund four years ago to help incarcerated young people successfully reintegrate into society.
Victor Beausoleil says the funding has run out and the organization will be forced to move out of its rented spaces in Scarborough and in the city’s west end early next year.
“We are in trouble and we will cease to exist without urgent funding,” said Beausoleil. “It’s as simple as that and if this model dies, it will be a tragedy to youth organizing in this city. In the past six weeks, we have submitted six funding applications and about 20 in the last two years. We have received some money for specific programs, but we need core funding.”
Beausoleil estimates it will take around $540,000 annually to sustain the RRS model.
Last month, the organization released the findings of a nine-month study spearheaded by McMaster University professor Dr. Gina Browne looking at the effectiveness of the young offenders’ reintegration program.
“There has been some great work done by many organizations that we stand on the shoulders of, but a lot of times that work is about outputs and not really outcomes and impacts,” said Beausoleil who in January 2012 unsuccessfully ran for trustee in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Don Valley East riding, which was left vacant when Michael Coteau was elected as the riding’s new Member of the Provincial Parliament (MPP). “Using our own four-pillar process of identity, opportunity provision, accountability and resilience, it shows that we could impact the lives of our own young people and decrease recidivism.
“What surprised me the most about the study is that young people’s assets are actually strengthened through going through the process, but it diminishes by engaging systems because systems sometimes crush people.”
Results demonstrated that RRS had a 3.5 per cent recidivism rate after nine months which is one of the lowest in the world.
“While that was stunning, I believe the number is even lower,” Beausoleil said. “The young people that are re-offending are actually committing minor breaches like being in areas that they are not supposed to be. Our frontline staff is doing an amazing job, connecting with our young people as early as 7 a.m. through text messages trying to ensure they are in school or in their programs on time and sending daily inspirational quotes.”
Beausoleil started volunteering 13 years ago in his Scarborough neighbourhood. He was a youth engagement coordinator at Tropicana Community Services Organization and youth coordinator of Dorset Park Youth Council, which received money through the Youth Challenge Fund to establish a sports pad – comprising a basketball court, cricket pitch and youth lounge – to help develop youth organization strategies and youth-based solutions at McGregor Park Recreation Centre.
He’s among seven full-time RRS staff comprising young people.
“RRS is a love story,” he said. “It’s about a few young people that came together and said we love our community. We are focused on a very particular demographic of young people and it’s those that are on the margin and usually left behind We are talking about those who mainstream have challenges engaging. We wanted to specifically engage those hard-to-reach youths and put them through a process that will help them build self-esteem and show that they can contribute as leaders.”
Young people accessing RRS spend about nine hours weekly with a case worker who helps them navigate the criminal justice system. They also have access to counselling for substance abuse, mental illness and anger management issues.
In addition, RRS has partnered with the Toronto District School Board and the Toronto Catholic School Board to run a transitional school program at its 1460 Midland Ave. and 116 Industry St. locations.
“We cannot put those young people coming out of incarceration into a regular classroom,” said Beausoleil. “If a young person goes straight back to school, there is a public safety issue. If they are denied access to education, that’s a human rights issue. The program is a buffer and meaningful intervention before the young people transition back into a regular classroom.”
A total of 20 youths are enrolled in the transitional high school model and six in the elementary model.
“This is a program for youths to come to and gradually feel good about themselves,” said TDSB educator Nigel Hunter who is one of four teachers involved in the transitional program. “We teach them the curriculum and life skills.”
The organization also runs a hair salon, a barbershop, a landscaping company and a window cleaning business.
“I have worked in support of the great work being done by Victor and his staff,” said Association of Black Law Enforcers founding president, David Mitchell. “I have witnessed the success of the non-traditional approach of RRS with our young people who, for many historic and contemporary reasons, get involved with the criminal justice system. The findings of Dr. Gina Browne’s research indicating reduced recidivism for young people serviced by RRS are confirmation that the organization is an effective community asset providing valuable life-altering service to our young people.”