Ralph Gutkin believes that Peterborough is facing a “criminality crisis.” Gutkin, a local independent researcher and activist, is not referring to an overtaxed police force, or increased violent crime rates. The crisis concerns “recidivism,” a term for the tendency of ex-offenders to re-offend. The current staggering cost of our justice system, and the lack of community resources in Peterborough to assist our citizens with breaking out of the cycle of recidivism, has brought us to a crisis point. Gutkin is spearheading an initiative to bring attention to, and fill, this need in Peterborough.
In his blog series, “Exploring a Community-based Response to our Criminality Crisis,” originally presented through Peterborough Dialogues, Gutkin presents disturbing statistics for recidivism in Canada. One study from 2007 found as high as a 70% rate of recidivism for short-term inmates, who receive few services to reintegrate into society.
Individuals re-entering society after serving time face many social barriers because of the stigma of a criminal record. At the heart of the matter is employment. Meaningful employment is necessary not only to pay for costs of living, but also to reintegrate into the community. Obtaining a pardon in Canada takes a minimum of five years to complete and the application costs $631—difficult to do if you don’t have a job. A criminal record is a major barrier to employment on its own, and former inmates frequently face additional barriers, such as lack of education or skills.
The issue is personal for Gutkin, who describes having witnessed the “revolving door” phenomenon for inmates for whom, he says, “being ‘inside’ is their only sense of community.”
Gutkin’s solution seems simple enough: provide ex-offenders with the opportunity to develop practical skills while earning a living. His proposed model is a self-sustaining multidisciplinary worker co-op that rehabilitates and reintegrates ex-offenders into the Peterborough community. providing stable employment, income, and useful job skills. Gutkin references precedent for such an enterprise: similar ex-offender worker co-ops have been effective in reducing recidivism and general crime costs in Italy, Sweden, and the UK.
The proposed business will be in the food services. Gutkin has already secured the support of several community partners, including volunteers who are lending their culinary and entrepreneurial expertise.
The initiative is still in development, and Gutkin is calling for members of the community to support the initiative. The Fraser Institute’s 2014 report The Cost of Crime in Canada estimates that Canadians spend over $85 billion on crime annually. We can make a small dent in these numbers in Peterborough by offering our citizens with criminal records an opportunity to contribute to the betterment of our city. For Gutkin’s initiative to come to fruition, the project requires the support of Peterborough.
If you would like to get involved in this project, you can email Ralph Gutkin at [email protected], or contact the Resonance Centre for Social Evolution by calling 705 741-4421 ext. 28 or emailing [email protected].
This article is part of our series “The Four Themes,” exploring four key areas of focus that Electric City Magazine will be following throughout 2018.