Nfld. & Labrador

John Howard Society steps in to take over mental health association's justice program

After more than a decade, the Canadian Mental Health Association decided to end a program that helps inmates transfer between prison life and the outside world.

After more than a decade, CMHA decided to end program as organization goes in a different direction

Cindy Murphy, executive director of the John Howard Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, says the group is well positioned to take over a program that helps inmates with mental illness transition from prison life to the outside world. (Marie Rochon/CBC)

Ten men who are enrolled in a program that helps inmates transfer between prison life and the outside — a program that was set to conclude in January — will be moved over to the John Howard Society.

Cindy Murphy, executive director of the John Howard Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, said her organization was approached by the provincial chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association to continue the service. The Department of Justice, which funds the program, has agreed, Murphy said

"We've decided to provide the service in the interim and will be fully committed to the program participants for the remainder of the fiscal year," Murphy said Thursday.

Murphy said the provincial government will put out a request for proposals for a group to run the program full time. Murphy said the John Howard Society would be a good match. 

"I think we are very well positioned with our history and expertise working with criminal justice folks," Murphy said.

"We [have] the wraparound services, extensive housing, substance abuse programs, and counselling services in place that would certainly support this particular client population."

In an interview this week, the CMHA's interim CEO, Catherina Kennedy, said the decision to end the program came after a review of all of the organization's programs. Kennedy said the justice program was in deficit year over year, despite consistent government funding. She also said the program has never fit into the association's mandate.

A white van is driving from a yellow stone building.
A correctional officer drives a prisoner transport van out of Her Majesty's Penitentiary earlier this month. (Katie Breen/CBC)

The program provides services to inmates with mental illness at Her Majesty's Penitentiary and case management and community support after release for up to 18 months. Case managers meet inmates at the gate of the penitentiary and begin work to find them stable employment, housing and food. The program arose from the 2008 Decades of Darkness report.

One of the 10 current participants of the program, speaking to CBC News about the program, said he is worried about losing his assigned worker, who has been with him since release from the penitentiary last year.

George Skinner, former executive director of the provincial branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said ending a program so suddenly is a risk, especially given the population of the client base, all of whom have complex mental illness challenges. 

"No doubt they'll get service, which is fine, but this is a very specific group with very sophisticated, complex needs," Skinner said. 

Murphy acknowledged that trust between a client and worker is critical but said she is confident it will happen. 

"It's certainly [an] important piece. There's no question about that. We encountered these kinds of issues regularly, you know, in the work that we do and people changing positions and those types of things," Murphy said.

Murphy said discussions are happening between both organizations to transition the members of the program from one group to another. 

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Ariana Kelland

Investigative reporter

Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's. She is working as a member of CBC's Atlantic Investigative Unit. Email: