Funding from the Department of Justice Canada’s Youth Justice Fund is helping the Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN) develop and deliver a pilot public legal education program for youth in custody or on probation. Together 180 focuses on the areas of law that most affect young people during rehabilitation and reintegration. The public legal education program aims to build legal life skills and promote positive relationships between youth and justice sector professionals.
In 2021, OJEN hired five Youth Leadership Team members to assist in the development of the initial pilot program. An online version of Together 180 was piloted in partnership with New Beginnings and Butch Collins Residence, an open custody and detention facility in Windsor, Ontario. Last fall, the program received a successful launch at the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre, for youth in closed custody. OJEN is working with the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services (MCCSS), probation in Toronto, York Region, Windsor and Ottawa; the Committee of Youth Officers Ontario (COYO), Youth Justice Services, and other community organizations as well as the remaining closed custody facilities in Ontario to plan additional programming in 2022 and 2023.
Together 180 is modeled on OJEN’s successful Youth-Police Dialogues (YPD), which we have delivered over the past six years in communities experiencing tension and conflict between youth and police. In this program, lawyers and police officers use scenario-based learning to share information about policing practices and youths’ rights when interacting with the police. Youth and justice sector professionals explore the reasons for tension between police and their communities, while practicing key legal life skills such as communication and advocacy. The program culminates with youth and police officers working together to come up with respectful community solutions.
Together 180 takes elements of this multi-session program to address the unique needs and circumstances of youth involved in the justice system. While maintaining the emphasis on skill building, the program focuses on sharing information helpful in navigating the law-related challenges youth may encounter post-custody, such as securing housing and employment. Youth will learn where they can access reliable public legal information and assistance, and explore options for community-based support.
Like many OJEN programs, Together 180 provides an opportunity for shared learning between youth and justice sector professionals. Connecting youth with lawyers, police and probation officers in an informal setting offers them an opportunity to develop connections with people who work in the justice system. At the same time, justice sector professionals learn about youth perspectives, their ideas about improving relationships with those who work within the legal system, and their recommendations for greater rehabilitation and reintegration.
OJEN anticipates piloting the program 18-20 times with open and closed custody facilities and youth probation programs. Partnerships with facilities and groups where Indigenous and racialized youth are engaged will be prioritized. By the conclusion of the funding, a program replication template will be available in both English and French on the OJEN website.
To learn more about OJEN’s programs and resources, please visit www.ojen.ca.