Work Program Helps Transition Men from Prison Life to Healthy, Community Living
Prince George, B.C. – It’s a warm May afternoon and a work crew of four men are putting the finishing touches on a renovation project inside a home in a residential neighbourhood in Prince George.
The men vary in ages and those passing by don’t give them a second thought. They have no idea this is not your regular work crew though, it’s a group of ex-convicts participating in GroundWorkPG – an employment program for men transitioning back into the community.
It’s run by Justin Foster and it’s about to celebrate its third year of existence this August.
“So the guys make a wage, they work out in the community. Right now it’s four days a week at eight hours a day. We have between six and 10 guys or so and they do a variety of work.”
He says some of the work is paid contracts with organizations like Aboriginal Housing and partnerships with the City of Prince George. The men – residents of the Prince George Activator Society (a halfway house) – also work with seniors and people with disabilities.
And what’s more, Foster says it works.
“We’ve had just under 50 people in three years and our success rate is really high in terms of the men transitioning back into the community, that’s ultimately our goal. We haven’t had any major incidents, no one has committed a crime while working on this program so that’s definitely a success.”
He says he doesn’t have a background in this field and was introduced to it by a friend.
“He’d got some new funding to start a new employment program and it seemed like it would be a good fit so I thought I would take it on. I guess because I believe in the rehabilitation system is ultimately what it comes down to.”
In other words, Foster doesn’t believe in locking away criminals and throwing away the key.
“That does not work at all. One of the things I’ve learned doing this work is that most of our clients come from poverty. They come from low levels of education and addiction and those are major factors in their crimes.
“And so having an opportunity to work, to be educated, to be a part of a community is something that many have never had and they want to be here, they want to give back. They don’t want that life they were living before so this is an opportunity to do that.”