Project co-ordinator Heidi Edgar says the justice project has helped 27 former inmates to date. ((CBC))

A former inmate, who has been in and out of jail for most of his adult life, is crediting a new provincial justice program with keeping him out of jail for nearly a year.

"I'm out now almost a year and I've never lasted a year on the streets before in my life, never," said a 30-something-year-old former inmate whose identity has been withheld.

The justice project emerged from a 2008 report on the prison system in Newfoundland and Labrador. It aims to improve life by offering counselling and support to inmates who suffer from a mental illness or disorder.

The former inmate, who has bi-polar disorder and has had substance abuse issues,  has served provincial time for assaults, uttering threats and breaches of probation. He told CBC News that the support he has received has helped him to stay out of trouble and get his own apartment.

"It was different, trying to adjust to the outside … I really don't know how to explain when you're coming out and trying to adjust to the outside world, it feels nice to have someone who can meet you at the gate when you get out," said the former inmate.

The program — facilitated by the Canadian Mental Health Association — pairs a caseworker with an inmate before the inmate is released from prison. Caseworker Rick Parsons said the former inmates get support for a full year.

"Our typical day completely looks different on a daily basis. We could be doing something as simple as helping somebody do basic life skills to trying to have them admitted to the hospital or trying to advocate that they not return to HMP [Her Majesty's Penitentiary] because they are doing well," said Parsons.

"It really ranges and it's quite a big gap, quite a big gamut of different services that we provide."

Project co-ordinator Heidi Edgar said the program, which is the only one of its kind in Canada, has been successful.

"Success is really kind of different in terms of what most people would think of in terms of our success. I would love for our individuals to come out of HMP and never go back and live a wonderful productive life and [while] that's not reality for a lot of our individuals, it is for many," said Edgar.

Edgar said there have been 27 former inmates who have received support through the justice program.