Given our line of work, we see each and every day the complex barriers faced by individuals with criminal justice experience. We took a look at some of these barriers under the microscope during this month’s Speaker Series session.

Thanks to funding received from the Law Foundation of Ontario, JHS Ontario’s Centre for Policy and Research carried out a project, Legally Bound, which included an in-depth research study and needs assessment on the civil legal needs of justice-involved individuals in the province. Through the project, JHS Ontario investigated the barriers that prevent these individuals from addressing their civil needs and offer recommendations on how to mend the gap.

You can read Legally Bound: Addressing the Civil Legal Needs of Justice-Involved Ontarians here.

We were joined by Aileen Simon, Project Lead for Strategic Initiatives at JHS Ontario’s Centre for Policy and Research, who touched on the key findings from the project and what it can teach us about how we can better serve individuals involved with the justice system.

“We wanted to identify some of the most common legal civil issues that our clients were facing, and the types of information that our staff, as well as other community workers, might be able to benefit from to respond to those issues”

– Aileen Simon

Before we go further, it’s important to first identify what exactly civil legal needs and issues are.

Civil legal issues are issues that can be resolved through a formal legal process that is not criminal law or prison law issues.

Aileen explains that these civil legal issues often relate to basic needs. For example, being evicted from a rental housing unit, having issues with child custody or family law matters, being wrongfully dismissed from employment, and issues in accessing the public education system.

Civil legal needs are the other side of the coin.

They’re the requirement for timely, accessible and responsive legal services, advice, and resources to address those civil legal issues.

“Frontline staff, including our John Howard staff, play this unique role in their clients lives where they get to help them in those moments and often at those pivotal times while they’re experiencing these civil legal issues and other issues in general… they are well positioned to help identify legal problems and to potentially detect other legal problems they may not be aware about. This helps to ensure clients are receiving correct information, timely access to services, and it can make sure that problems aren’t compounding into more serious problems.”

– Aileen Simon

Aileen went on to share key findings from the project, including which civil legal issues are most commonly faced by justice-involved individuals, and how specifically they face them.

This included the unique experiences of justice-involved individuals experiencing civil legal issues in comparison to the general population. In one example that illustrates the complex and compounded civil legal needs of justice-involved individuals, Aileen articulates the domino effect that they can face.

“Let’s say you have an individual whose receiving government income support and they’re taken into custody, and because they’re taken into custody they lose access to that income support, which makes them unable to pay rent in their rental housing unit. If they’re unable to pay rent they can get evicted from that rental housing unit which can lead to child custody issues if they have any children. This is just one example”

– Aileen Simon

We highly encourage you to watch the session to learn more about the key findings, and to read their finalized report to dive deeper into this important subject matter.

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