Second Chances

Second Chances

LIQ_Mag_Mar2014_Cover_FinalThis article first appeared in the March 2014 issue of Life in Québec Magazine.
Life in Quebec Magazine is a lifestyle publication covering the Quebec region and is currently published at least 3 times per year.

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By Jacquelyn Smith

Everyone deserves a second chance. This old adage is often cited but rarely practiced when it comes to former inmates seeking to be reintegrated into the job market after serving their sentences.

Criminality is heavily stigmatised in our society and can seriously prevent former inmates from finding work after serving their sentence, regardless of the nature of their offence or its gravity. Often a guilty verdict not only condemns a person to prison, but also to a life of precarious employment and poverty.

In the past few years, new legislation concerning minimal sentencing and mandatory fines for offenders has stirred much controversy. Criminologists state that crime rates have been falling for years due to programs focused on rehabilitation and social reintegration and that enforcing minimal sentencing will simply create more criminals by redefining the term.

This can be problematic because forced minimal sentencing means that judges have little to no discretion in assigning criminal records to people for petty crimes, misdemeanours and first offences. It means that a driver, who is an ordinary law-abiding citizen, who had one drink too many at a Christmas party, could have a criminal record that could block him from getting a job for the rest of his life.

Prison_barsEven though article 18.2 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms states “No one may dismiss, refuse to hire or otherwise penalize a person in his employment owing to the mere fact that he was convicted of a penal or criminal offence, if the offence was in no way connected with the employment or if the person has obtained a pardon for the offence”, people with criminal records are regularly refused employment or dismissed even before the employer learns about the nature of the offence.

Despite the illegality, it is rare that the decision will be contested; the former inmate is often too devastated by the loss of his job and too discouraged by the court system to find the strength to fight a battle of wrongful dismissal.

Life in Québec Magazine spoke to the Quebec-based Not-for-profit organisation La Jonction, about some of the issues people with criminal records face when trying to reintegrate into the labour market.

LiQ: What does La Jonction do?

Jonction: We help people with criminal records reintegrate into the job market by providing job seeking workshops, internet lessons, personal development workshops, and résumé counselling.

LiQ: How many clients do you have per month?

Jonction: We have approximately 20 clients per month at our four points of service, two of which are in detention centres.

LiQ: What are some of the biggest challenges your clients face when looking for a job?

Jonction: It has been much more difficult to find a job with a criminal record in the past ten years. New laws and regulations allow employers to inquire about criminal records and fire people just for having one, even if they are good employees and their offence had nothing to do with their job. Oftentimes things like housing or poverty are a major challenge to finding a job. Sometimes people get out of prison and have no place to go and no money to find a place to live. Employers are hesitant to hire someone with no fixed address. Also, often our clients do not have a large wardrobe and show up to interviews not looking too clean cut, which is a big deterrent for employers. Most of our clients have self-esteem issues. They have trouble selling themselves in an interview. Or they have poor social skills and don’t really know what to say.

These things come into play once they find a job as well. Maintaining a job is often more difficult for our clients than finding one. Sometimes they don’t understand things that seem obvious to someone who has worked for a long time, like the importance to show up on time or to shower and shave! It is important for employers taking on this type of client to be very precise about these kinds of things because it is not a question of bad behaviour as much as it is about just not knowing the social norms.

LiQ: What would you say are some myths about people with criminal records?

Jonction: Many employers think immediately that a criminal record means that the person is dangerous or a thief. This is usually not the case. Most of our clients are quite timid and shy. Finding a job and working is usually a huge source of pride for them and they are usually very hard workers. Another myth is that people with criminal records will have a tattoo on their face or have a rough looking image. This is not true; many of our clients are very good looking and clean up nicely once they get the chance. Our advice to employers is to give our clients a chance and see the positive side of the person. For example, some people who have excessive personalities excel at repetitive tasks like working in a factory but don’t have the ability to multi-task well. Other people have just made mistakes in their life, or have had an addiction problem that led to impaired driving or other poor decisions but are great all around workers.

LiQ: Do you have many success stories?

Jonction: We have quite a few. Some of our clients are really not ready to go onto the labour market and really don’t make the effort. Some of our clients try hard and really want to work. What it comes down to is if the person is ready to deal with the demands of work or not. But there are lots of clients who will come to us with an idea or a hope that they can get a job or even a career after spending time in prison. We have had clients go on to university and become social workers or human relations officers. We have had clients who become mechanics or work in trades or healthcare and really make careers for themselves. A lot of our clients however find gratification in working in restaurants, hotels, maintenance services, or manual labour jobs. Finding a job and working hard at it is sometimes the best therapy or rehabilitation possible. It gives our clients a sense of belonging and self-esteem.

It gives them a second chance.

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About Author

Jacquelyn Smith

Jacquelyn Smith was born and raised in Hamilton. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Developement from the University of Guelph and is currently studying Law at Université Laval. Jacquelyn Smith lives in Quebec City.

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