Faith Community Reintegration 101
Over the past weeks, I have had many encouraging conversations with individuals and churches about the work of Better Life Integration and Support.
I'm relatively new to the position of General Director/Lead Chaplain with Better Life and so, like many of you, I am just beginning to discover what the work of Better Life is all about—and what a game-changer it can be for men and women in a Federal Corrections Institute as they come up for parole and look to integrate back into the community. (Federal sentences in Canada are sentences of two years plus a day; otherwise, offenders go into Provincial Institutions.)
Before I begin defining Faith Community Reintegration Projects (FCRP), I want to provide a brief history:
Better Life was formed in the early 2000s and motivated by the significant difference helping parolees within the context of a faith community makes.
Initially, Better Life functioned under Corrections Canada as a Community Chaplaincy, which involves supporting and helping parolees in halfway homes and in the community experience healthy reintegration. This also involves the valuable work of supporting the families of men and women who were incarcerated.
Many former offenders and their families experienced the care and support of Better Life’s lead chaplain Pascal Bergeron and the team of chaplains who served with him over the years. However, in a summary of the work of Community Chaplaincy, it was noted that the number of parolees to one chaplain was 1000:1 in the greater Toronto area and 650:1 in Metro Vancouver.
In response to this overwhelming ratio of parolees to chaplains, FCRP’s (Faith Community Reintegration Projects) were developed by Corrections Canada (CSC).
Better Life has the FCRP contract for the Pacific Region, which includes Vancouver/Fraser Valley and Victoria/Vancouver Island. There are nine Federal Corrections Institutes in the Region:
Fraser Valley Institute (The Only Women’s Facility | Abbotsford)
Kent (Maximum Security | Agassiz)
Kwikwexwelhp Healing Village (Harrison Mills)
Matsqui Institution (Medium Security | Abbotsford)
Mission Institutions (2: Minimum & Medium | Mission)
Mountain Institution (Medium | Agassiz)
Pacific Institution/Regional Treatment Centre (Addiction & Psychiatric Centre | Abbotsford)
William Head Institution (Minimum Security | Victoria)
FCRPs offer a couple of significant benefits:
Firstly, there is a significant reduction in recidivism when a parolee is connected with a faith community.
The statistic I've heard most often is that a parolee has a 70% likelihood of reoffending (recidivism) if they are not connected with a faith community.
That’s obviously a huge motivation for connecting offenders of faith to a faith community on their release from prison!
Secondly—and closely connected—is the importance of the faith community in the healthy reintegration of a parolee.
In other words, while Better Life Chaplains and other FCRP Chaplains all across Canada work actively to provide care and support to men and women who request it within a variety of different contexts and phases of their experience, the contractually mandated work of Better Life and related organizations is specifically to provide a "bridge" from an offender's time in a Corrections Institution to a faith community.
A faith community that welcomes and provides a growth pathway and mentorship for a parolee is the best environment that a parolee can experience for healthy reintegration back into their community and toward become a contributing member of their community.
Better Life as an organization has a fantastic team of chaplains and volunteers who invest deeply in the men and women who reach out to us looking to connect with a faith community as they come out of the corrections institution on parole. We also extend care to the families of offenders who often feel lost and alone during their loved one's incarceration.
But also—and in many respects, more significantly—we partner with local faith communities who are committed, and even have a sense of calling, to provide a place of welcome, safety, and growth for a parolee, knowing that the environment they provide is a game-changer when it comes to healthy reintegration back into the community.
In Part 2 of Faith Community Reintegration, we'll look at where the process of engagement begins, and what the significant steps of the process are, including how volunteers can become involved inside the institution and help build that "bridge" of reintegration from the institution to their faith community.