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New program to reduce number of Manitoba Indigenous youth in custody

Small notes with the names of children and the words 'every child matters' tied with orange ribbons on the fence surrounding an primary school as Canadians marked the first annual National Day For Truth And Reconciliation in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on 30 September 2021. Orange Shirt Day is an Indigenous grassroots commemorative day that honours the children who survived residential schools and remembers those who did not. National Day for Truth and Reconciliation honours the lost Aboriginal children and Survivors of residential schools, their families and communities. (Photo by Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty Images)

A new program at Marymound Inc. in Manitoba aims to reduce the number of Indigenous youths involved in the justice system.

Zaagiwe Oshinawe Inaakonigewin, which translates to “Love (the) Youth (in) Justice,” is a youth justice program based on Indigenous healing principles. It will connect participants to their community, culture and Indigenous identity while working to prevent reoffences.

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Participants will have wraparound support during their time in the justice system and as they transition out of custody.

“Ultimately that’s how young people who are involved in the justice system find success,” said Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen, “not just by programming that happens within a closed custody or a correctional facility, but beyond that in their community.”

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Marymound Inc. Executive Director Nancy Parker emphasizes that the program will look different for each individual. Participants will be able to access outside activities as well as Marymound’s treatment to best support their growth.

“It’s their voice, it’s strength-based, and it again allows a unique healing journey for each youth,” Parker said.

According to Statistics Canada, Indigenous youth made up 43 per cent of youth in custody in 2018, despite being only 8.8 per cent of all youth in Canada. The program aims to address this overrepresentation by looking at the root causes of crime, like trauma and addiction.

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“Individual approaches are so, so critical,” said Parker. “There is no one fit, there is no one youth who is going to look like the next youth in their journey leading up to us.”

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The program uses a funding model called a social impact bond. Private investors fund the treatment, and are repaid by the government based on the program’s outcomes. The province will pay up to $2.25 million over three years. This is the first justice social impact bond in Manitoba.

The province says incarceration and crime have a high “economic and human cost,” and that reducing repeat offences through this preventative program will help keep communities safe.

“This is a program that, if it works – which I think it has proven – through the social innovation financing, will be able to reduce the number of kids that are reoffending in our community,” said Premier Heather Stefanson.

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