Ontario’s Plan for Community Justice Centres
Ontario is launching a new and innovative initiative to respond to the overrepresentation of marginalized, racialized and Indigenous people in the criminal justice system. Community Justice Centres will be established in in Kenora, London, and Toronto’s Moss Park.
Community Justice Centres move justice out of the traditional courtroom and into a community setting to help connect individuals to critical services that address the root causes of crime- before, during and after entry into the justice system.
Community Justice Centres have been established in over 70 different communities around the world of varying sizes, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, settings and legal traditions. The centres have been shown to improve recidivism rates, reduce reliance on incarceration, and enhance community safety and wellbeing.
These centres will not replace the existing court system. Instead, they will work in conjunction with courts to provide holistic and targeted justice solutions while balancing public safety.
The framework and objectives
All centres will operate through a triage and case management model that places individual needs at the centre of the criminal justice process. Each centre will share a similar framework that ensures fairness and equity for all clients, including:
- Core principles to guide the planning, design and operation
- Automatic entry for eligible individuals
- A variety of sentences and dispositions including, but not limited to diversion
- Voluntary participation for accused individuals
- Integrated justice and service teams that provide on-site triage and case management
- Some critical on-site services and referral processes for all community members
- Victim services and support referrals
Each centre will adapt to changing community needs and respond to the outcomes of ongoing performance evaluation.
Targeting the Root Causes of Crime
The justice system – on its own - cannot address the underlying factors of criminality, such as mental health and addiction issues, social isolation, poverty and homelessness. We know that many marginalized accused people continue to cycle through the justice system. In 2013-14, 37% of offenders in Ontario’s jails returned to custody within two years. Police are often called to respond to criminal situations linked to non-criminal risk factors. Due to a lack of community-based alternatives, the justice system becomes the place of last resort, i.e., a holding place, for many vulnerable persons.
CJCs will help ensure that each point of contact with the police or justice system is an opportunity to provide meaningful intervention that reduces the likelihood of further offending or victimization by addressing the underlying factors leading to contact with the law. CJC staff work with community partners to foster a greater understanding of the complex factors leading to contact with the law, enhance linkages with culturally appropriate health and social systems, and provide targeted and holistic supports to clients.
Increasing Community Wellbeing and Safety
For Ontario to improve outcomes for vulnerable individuals and families, we are adopting a strategic vision that integrates government services so that they become as meaningful points of contact on the, and narrows the gap between community and justice partners.
By bringing together communities, police, justice partners, health and social services under one roof, with the shared goal of addressing the underlying causes of crime and systemic barriers, the centres could lead to increased community safety and wellbeing.
Supporting Reconciliation and Addressing the Overrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples
Ontario has been working to address the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in all aspects of the criminal justice system – as accused, victims and communities. Indigenous people continue to be overrepresented Ontario’s jails and we have more work to do.
By collaborating directly with local Indigenous leadership, organizations and communities, CJCs will support access to culturally-appropriate programs and services run by local Indigenous organizations and governments, based in Indigenous restorative justice principles. This could help to reduce the number of incarcerated Indigenous people and remove barriers to accessing justice.
Models for Each Community
The province worked extensively with community groups, local Indigenous leaders, health and social service providers, system users, and justice partners in each location to map existing services, identify gaps, and deepen our understanding of the local criminal justice system from the perspective of users.
This research helped determine a focus for each centre that is responsive to the needs of the communities it will serve.
Kenora’s criminal justice system has become a holding place for Indigenous people who face challenges rooted in intergenerational trauma and colonialism, including forced relocation, loss of culture, involvement in child welfare, systemic discrimination, racism, and sexual abuse. Based on statistics from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, in 2016, almost 90% of people in the Kenora jail self-identified as Indigenous.
In response to these complex issues, the province is proposing a Bicultural Community Justice Centre that will have parallel criminal and Indigenous restorative justice processes. These two streams would support increased Indigenous leadership in the provision of traditional and restorative justice practices, provide multi-disciplinary trauma-informed supports, and programs delivered by Indigenous service providers.
Kenora is home to the only district jail in northwest Ontario, and as a result, there is a significant transfer of people from remote northern communities. We are also exploring establishing satellite hubs in Sioux Lookout and Timmins, which would work with the Kenora CJC to enhance services and access to restorative justice processes for these clients from remote northern communities.
When considering court options, CJC will prioritize all restorative and therapeutic solutions that could allow people to remain in, or return to, their own communities while following their court conditions.
Existing Indigenous Restorative Justice Programs in the surrounding communities are vital resources and will be strengthened and supported as part of the development of the CJC in Kenora and potential satellite hubs in Sioux Lookout and Timmins.
Toronto-Moss Park’s Urban Community Health and Justice Centre
Toronto’s Moss Park neighbourhood faces challenges in addressing the cycle of offending and victimization for marginalized people affected by homelessness, poverty, mental health and addictions issues. This area of Toronto’s eastern downtown present the city’s highest rates of major crime and priority calls to police.
To help local justice and social service partners address the contributing factors related to crime in this area, a Moss Park Urban Community Health and Justice Centre will focus on promoting close collaboration and colocation of justice and health, mental health and addictions partners.
The centre will operate on a harm reduction and therapeutic justice model, which promotes continuity of care, coordinated case management and facilitated information sharing between local agencies.
This is an opportunity for the province to work closely with municipal partners to ensure consistency with local urban planning and service delivery initiatives in Moss Park.
London’s Youth-in-Transition Community Justice Hub
Young adults aged 18-25 are a high-needs population that account for a disproportionate share of criminal charges in London. In addition, it has one of the highest numbers of at-risk young adults who are not in employment, education or training in Ontario, while 25% of all Mental Health Act apprehensions are of transition-aged youth. These young adults often fall through the cracks once they age out of child protection or teenage social and health services.
A London Youth-in-Transition Community Justice Hub would seek to redirect these young people out of the criminal justice system through collaboration between local youth and justice partners, and targeted interventions that reflect the research on neurological development in young people. This could involve responsive and preventative programming aimed at connecting young people with peer support, counseling, education, life skills training and employment.
Design and Implementation
Each centre will be designed by and for the communities it serves, with support from local and provincial partners. The province will create a governing structure that brings together representatives from across government and local communities to support the design and planning of Community Justice Centres going forward.
The ministry will also work across government to develop information sharing and case management protocols for shared clients that improve outcomes while respecting with individual privacy rights.
Evaluation and evidence-based policy is integral to this project. As a result, the province will develop meaningful performance measurements for each CJC that help identify what works.
In 2017, we began exploring whether marginalized, racialized and Indigenous People’s experiences with the justice system could be improved by establishing Community Justice Centres (CJC) in Kenora, London and Toronto’s Moss Park.
As part of this process, we held two community needs assessment forums in each community, which were attended by representatives from justice, social, health, mental health, Indigenous support and housing service sectors. Our team also convened dozens of meetings and conversations with system users, justice partners and community agencies.Our findings from these assessments indicate that experiences can indeed be improved, which supports existing evidence that a holistic and targeted approach is essential to address the intersection of poverty, homelessness, mental illness and addictions within the criminal justice system.
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