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Oct4ThuThe Salvation Army’s Cuthbert House helps youth in conflict with the law. October 4, 2018 Story and photos by Giselle Randell
When Jason* was 16, he made a mistake that changed a family’s life forever. He stole a car, which was later used by some of his friends. There was an accident, and a little girl was killed. Jason was charged under the Youth Criminal Justice Act and sentenced to time in custody and community supervision. After four months at a secure facility, he was transferred to The Salvation Army’s Cuthbert House, an open custody and detention centre for male youth aged 12-17, in Brampton, Ont.
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“We provide a home and programs for each young person based on their needs,” says Andrea Randall, director of Cuthbert House, often known as “jail mom.” “Our goal is to address the behaviour that brought them into conflict with the law, and help them return to the community successfully—to give them the tools they need to change their life.”
A Clean Slate
They start with a clean slate. While Randall reads each incoming resident’s file, she doesn’t focus on their charges. “It’s not my job to worry about that— they’ve already been sentenced,” she says. “My focus is, what do you need to be a better version of you? How do we get you there?”
The first step is to put together a case management plan outlining their goals, and form a circle of support—a parent or guardian, or any important person or community in their life, and their primary worker from Cuthbert House. Depending on their needs, they are referred to outside resources for mental health care, addiction treatment or counselling.
A typical day begins at 7:30 a.m. with wake up and breakfast. Residents attend an alternative school in the community, with the first period of the day at the YMCA for physical education. Afternoons are for appointments and programs, such as anger and emotion management, financial literacy and life skills, building healthy relationships and employment readiness. In the evening, there is recreation and leisure time.
Throughout the week, they use a level system, from one to five, to track goals and behaviour. Each level comes with privileges: phone calls, trips to the gym or time home with family. Once a month, the team meets with each resident to review his plan.
“Different kids need different things,” says Randall. “ ‘One-size-fits-all’ doesn’t work, so you have to think outside the box, and be creative. How can I make this impactful? The program has to be tailored to each individual youth for their success.”
When a youth is released, they can continue to receive support—help finding a place to stay, furniture, bus tickets or just getting to appointments on time—through an aftercare program.
Repairing the Harm
Cuthbert House’s approach is based on the principles of restorative justice, which emphasizes repairing harm and healing relationships. In a traditional restorative justice circle, the victim is able to address the offender to express how the crime affected them, and have a voice in how the matter should be resolved.
While Cuthbert House doesn’t facilitate meetings with victims, it does give youth the opportunity to reflect on the impact of their actions on victims, their family and the wider community.
“It’s important they see the harm that was caused, and learn how their behaviour affected others,” says Randall. “Sometimes it’s being able to show them patterns. We’ve had them write things on cards and stick them to the wall, so they can see the big picture. When you steal something, you’re not just taking something from the store—prices go up for everyone. And the lightbulb will come on.”
Dwayne Sewell is a restorative justice co-ordinator at Cuthbert House. “We want to get them to the place where they look at it from the victim’s point of view,” he says. “What would you want to say to them? We give them an opportunity to write an apology letter, and they can decide to give it to their probation officer or judge.”
It’s not only victims who are harmed. “When they’re in custody, the people at home are affected. Your sibling doesn’t have you around, or your mom needs to leave work to spend time with you here,” says Randall. “They need to understand that.” The team invites family members to case management meetings, to begin re-establishing those relationships.
“Working with youth in the justice system, restorative practices allow us to separate the behaviour from the person, and work toward positive change,” says Randall.
A Good Plan
Another way they work toward change is through the Positive Lifestyles Program, an eight-module course with topics including stress, depression and self-esteem.
“That one is powerful—it gets them to really look at themselves,” says Julia Corona, the chaplain at Cuthbert House, who leads the program. “You guide them through, but they do the work and come to their own realizations. One young man, who came across as arrogant, was surprised to find he actually thought low of himself.”
On Monday evenings, Corona leads a devotional time, often using interactive materials such as the “I Am Second” video testimonies. She takes those with approval to a church youth group on Friday nights, a basketball program on Saturdays, and sometimes even to church on Sundays. She has had youth ask to learn how to pray and come to faith.
“I have a love for these young men,” she says. “I tell them all the time—God has a good plan for your life. These are words right from God, from Jeremiah 29:11: ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘… plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope’ ” (NLT).
Part of the Journey
Residents at Cuthbert House are often struggling with big obstacles—mental health, addiction, homelessness—and the team doesn’t always see change. But sometimes they call, or show up, even years later, just to let the staff know they’re doing well.
“I tell our residents, this is a part of your journey, a necessary step along the way. There’s a lesson to be learned from coming here,” says Randall. “You made a mistake—don’t let that define who you are. You don’t have to be stuck. You can change your life and be productive. There’s so much more ahead of you.”
*Not his real name.
As a custody facility, Cuthbert House works with youth in the justice system, but it also seeks to help youth before they come into conflict with the law through a community development program.
“What happens before they get here?” asks Dwayne Sewell, one of the program co-ordinators, along with Greg Hall. “There are probably already signs at school, so if we can have some influence at that stage, then we’re being true to the spirit of restorative practices—of a holistic, whole-community approach.”
Sewell and Hall run programs in seven schools, as well as offer support to all middle and high schools in Peel Region, to help establish a culture of restorative practices. Students are identified for the program by their leadership potential, or because they need support.
Each week, they meet in a community circle. They start by checking in and sharing their highs and lows from the week. As they build relationships, it becomes easier to address conflict when it does arise. “Restorative practices aren’t just something you do when something happens—it’s the lens through which we view everything,” says Sewell.