Helping Aboriginal youth get their lives back on track

Everyone knows a key part of the correctional system is to ensure safe and secure custody of inmates, but what may not be so obvious is the work done through Alberta Corrections to get inmates back on track. The goal is to help them stop committing crime and make a better life – for both themselves and others by not creating more victims. This includes youth, especially those who are over-represented in Alberta’s correctional facilities.

In Edmonton, for example, an Aboriginal Program Coordinator and Native Elder work out of the Edmonton Young Offender Centre providing support to inmates, and culturally sensitive advice to probation officers as well. In fact, all Alberta correctional staff are trained to help young offenders of all ethnicities turn their lives around.

There is also a youth probation officer in Edmonton who has a specialized Aboriginal caseload and extensive experience working with Aboriginal youth, including having worked previously at Native Counselling Services. And all probation officers in Edmonton work with Aboriginal youth on a daily basis, so the officers get the training they need to provide the required support.

Across Alberta, correctional staff are well-trained to deal with young offenders of all ethnicities and are sensitized to the needs of Aboriginal youth specifically. Probation officers and centre staff complete induction training, and these dedicated people work tremendously hard and are deeply committed to improving outcomes for young people in conflict with the law. Alberta Corrections staff go “above and beyond” on a daily basis to meet the needs of the youth under their supervision.

As you may have read, some concerns have been raised recently about support ending for Aboriginal youth as provided by one probation officer with Native Counselling Services. To be clear, the work of this one probation officer is being shifted to other probation officers.

While one contract is ending, the youth clients supported by that position will be served by other, qualified probation officers, including some with Aboriginal roots themselves and/or sensitized to the needs of Aboriginal youth. Two individuals were recently hired (replacing staff who had left) in youth probation, and those two individuals are highly qualified for this role. They have finished induction training, including specialized emphasis on the cultural  needs of Aboriginal youth to ensure they are properly prepared to carry out their duties.

The number of youth in conflict with the law has gone down over the past few years and it no longer made sense to contract for services ministry probation officers can provide. Qualified, dedicated people will continue to provide these services at a lower cost to Alberta taxpayers – by moving the services to probation officers already trained and working with other youth in similar circumstances.

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3 Responses to Helping Aboriginal youth get their lives back on track

  1. Thank You for this blog, and the opportunity to respond. I have greatest respect for the Young Offender’s Branch, the Minister, as well as the diverse group of probation officers in the greater Edmonton community. But, cancelling a contract for such a valued service provider, and same time hiring two new probation youth officers(Making them Permanent Full time) was very IMO aggravating and contradicts not only the Declarations of Principals of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, but this government’s argument this action was done for taxpayer’s accountability and a falling crime rate. I suspect the annual costs of two probation officers and infrastructure involved to support these two new officers is a lot higher than $80,000 for one highly experienced and respected probation officer being replaced. I commend the high level of training; including cultural awareness that is provided to each employee of the Sol Gen Dept. But, Jodene, (The probation officer who will be out of a job next week) had a whole organization, Native Counselling Services of Alberta supporting her. Her focus was strictly on First Nations with a strong aspect of spirituality woven into her practice. This cannot be duplicated. I don’t know of any other PO in Edmonton who has taken their clients to Sweats, Round Dances, Pow-Wows and can’t imagine any First Nations Youth Smudging at any of the other govt probation offices. These are not subtle aspects of the justice system that can be ignored. First Nations youth are vastly over represented within the Alberta Youth Justice System. Aboriginal people cannot just be the recipients of the justice system, but have a fundamental right to also deliver these services. Jodene was doing this. Native Counselling Services of Alberta was doing this. And this time next week, both Jodene and NCSA will be gone from the lives of twenty nine Aboriginal youth. This is wrong.

    Mark Cherrington

    • Edie says:

      Absolutely great information that the mainstream public does not have access to. It is a travesty that this great ladies efforts are being ignored and instead the GOA is hiring two new probation youth officers (who could very well be young and inexperienced in the Aboriginal culture) to counsel these youth. I have nothing against GOA employees although with the intent of the government to ram through Bills 45 & 46 against the government employees and the Union, I am not sure why anyone would risk becoming an employee knowing they would never receive fair bargaining or proper increases. The PC government certainly has mixed values and a very confusing (to the public) agenda these days and all under the much used banner “Under the Building Alberta Plan, our government is investing in families and communities, living within our means, and opening new markets for Alberta’s resources to ensure we’re able to fund the services Albertans told us matter most to them. We will continue to deliver the responsible change Albertans voted for.” Sorry – it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of those truly affected by un-thinking decisions (the 29 youth, their families and fellow respected employees) like the cancelling of Jodene’s contract. Come on Hancock Government – get real with the citizens of Alberta and truly do what is best for families and communities. Quit patting yourselves on your backs and actually do something worthy of the citizen’s respect.

    • Thank you for the comments in support of Aboriginal youth. Here are a few points to help clarify what happened:

      Justice and Solicitor General did not hire two new positions because of the contract ending. Two people with both relevant experience and formal education were hired to fill vacancies left when other staff moved on.

      Importantly, these new staff are very well qualified to fill their new roles, having already completed induction training that includes specialized emphasis on the cultural needs of Aboriginal youth. In fact, one of the people hired was previously a transition worker from the Edmonton Young Offender Centre (EYOC) who assisted youth in preparing for release, which included liaising with community agencies. This is an important link as typically youth serve at least one-third of any custodial sentence being supervised in the community by a probation officer. Along with a Bachelor of Arts in correctional studies, this person has aboriginal roots, and was a co-facilitator of the Warrior Program that helps Aboriginal youth caught in the cycle of violence that was provided by Native Counselling Services of Alberta. The other new employee has experience working with adults and youth as a probation officer in rural Alberta, many of whom were Aboriginal, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in sociology.

      In addition, our correctional staff are extensively trained to deal with young offenders of all ethnicities, and our probation officers across the city deal with aboriginal youth on a daily basis. The ministry also has its own youth probation officer in Edmonton who has a specialized Aboriginal caseload. She also used to work for Native Counselling Services of Alberta—and in fact she previously occupied the position of the contacted probation officer who is not being renewed.

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