'It's really hard for us to swallow': Manitoba prisoner advocates get 20% funding cut
John Howard Society, Elizabeth Fry Society looking for ways to keep bail, reintegration programs running
Organizations that help Manitobans stay out of jail are struggling to find funds after a 20 per cent budget cut from the province.
The Elizabeth Fry Society Manitoba, a group which helps women with rehabilitative and reintegrative services, and the John Howard Society, which primarily helps men and boys with the same services, both had their funding cut in April's provincial budget.
"When we are taking away funding from services for the most vulnerable people in our city, it's really hard for us to swallow as an agency and as a board of directors," said Kristen Jones, president of the board of directors of the Elizabeth Fry Society Manitoba.
The funding cut directly impacts Elizabeth Fry's bail-support program, which helps women who are in custody attain bail and provides supports to help them with addictions and get counselling. It also runs housing units for women who need somewhere to stay while they are on bail if they don't have a stable, supportive and sober environment.
"Cutting $50,000 from us isn't going to probably make much of a difference to the overall [provincial] deficit but it sure makes a difference to our bottom line," Jones said.
It also impacts the provincial reintegration program, which serves women who are about to be released from custody, or have recently been released, get back to normal life in the community.
"Both of those programs are unique. We are the only people in the province offering them. If they end up having to be cut, it's quite devastating to the women that we serve," Jones said.
She said the organization is looking for other funding streams.
"We are trying to do everything we can so as to not to eliminate any programming," Jones said.
"We are sort of in a position where over the next six months, hopefully through the end of this fiscal year, we are hoping that we are not going to have to lay off staff. We are trying to get together and think outside of the box."
Two similar programs were impacted at the John Howard Society. Executive director John Hutton said it is also looking for alternative funding streams.
To keep its bail support and supervision program going, Hutton said the John Howard Society will shift toward working more with community-based clients.
Ten beds in the bail residence, which Hutton said were being underutilized, will also be used and paid for by federal corrections to help offset the cut in provincial funding.
"[We are] being a little more creative in how we are using our resources and how we are marketing our programs," he said.
Both Jones and Hutton said they didn't receive any indication Manitoba Justice was critical of the programs — it was a matter of cost cutting.
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However, in an emailed statement, a Manitoba Justice spokesperson said the programs funded at the John Howard Society and Elizabeth Fry Society were consistently undersubscribed and were designed to provide services to a larger number of individuals.
"Our government is now funding each program appropriately while a full evaluation can take place. Both organizations will begin capturing stronger statistics to demonstrate performance of participants in these bail programs," the spokesperson said.
"These statistics will include bail plans submitted and accepted, referrals to substance abuse programs, and the progress of any training and employment plans created."
As of Friday, there are 2,163 men and 302 women in Manitoba's adult correctional facilities.
with files from Meaghan Ketcheson and CBC Radio's Information Radio