Font size:

From the OJEN Blog

Together 180 at Sprucedale Youth Centre: an interactive learning experience

In early March, OJEN’s Outreach team spent an eventful week in Simcoe, Ontario. It started with a drive to Sprucedale Youth Centre. The youth detention centre is located a couple of hours away from Toronto in a building that used to be a school.

The biting cold weather graced us with its presence, yet our team felt nothing but excitement for the trip. At the centre, our lead community partner and a Youth Services Officer led us to a small conference room. When we saw the long tables and chairs, we couldn’t help but feel a sense of anticipation for what was to come.

Together 180 at Sprucedale Youth Centre

OJEN delivers Together 180 to youth in custody or on probation. Funded by Justice Canada, this program engages participants in learning about areas of law that they might encounter during reintegration. Together 180 also fosters connections between youth and professionals in the justice sector and community, through facilitated discussions about legal issues and the lived experiences of the young participants.

The intensive Sprucedale program ran for five days with two youth groups, one in the morning and another in the afternoon.

What protects human rights in Ontario? What are my rights during a police interaction? What’s the difference between a sentence review and appeal? Can a landlord increase my rent anytime? How much is the minimum wage? Where do I go to find legal information and support? 

Through scenarios, game-based learning and reflection, youth participants learned about the  ways they could navigate some of these common law-related challenges.

A valuable learning experience

The youth at Sprucedale eagerly took part in the program. They listened with rapt attention, chiming in now and then with their thoughts, as our team and the legal professionals shared  legal information and highlighted legal life skills that would help them post-custody. The participants also asked questions about legal topics they were curious about. They then engaged in a friendly competition with each other over our quiz questions. The Most Valuable Player became a title that they looked forward to at the end of each session, joking in good humour.

The youth shared a little about themselves too.

One of them wanted to be a pilot.

“Do other countries have access to my youth record that will prevent me from travelling?” He asked, raising his hand.

This sparked another round of discussion with the legal professionals, who joined us virtually. They refused to let distance prevent them from connecting with the youth.

“The youth were extremely interactive, asking so many great questions and sharing their personal experiences with the law,” Kassandra Thompson, OJEN’s Together 180 Program Lead said. “The youth were also so interested in learning about their rights and the importance of legal life skills. Their willingness to participate and offer us so much energy really made the sessions great. We fostered great connections with all of them.”

Each day was memorable as the participants learned about human rights, navigating police encounters, sentencing review and record suspensions, housing law, and employment law. 

The roundtable: getting their voices heard

On the last day, we invited Heather Tillock (Manager, Youth Development Unit at the City of Toronto) and Dr. Akwatu Khenti (Director of Community Resources at the City of Toronto) for a roundtable discussion with the youth.

Participants shared their perspectives and recommendations on rehabilitation and reintegration of youth involved in the justice system. They approached the discussion from different angles—starting from recommending certain programs for youth in custody to ways the justice system can better support them during reintegration.

The youth talked about starting the process of reintegration while still in custody. Additional programs to help them reintegrate should be available, they elaborated. Being able to effectively prepare, such as figuring out their life direction and setting up a job beforehand, would benefit them in better situating themselves in the community and making important changes.

Moreover, they recommended more opportunities to transition to open custody. According to the youth participants, legal decisions should be based on youth’s well-being. What’s best for them must be a priority at all times.

At the end of the program, one of the Youth Services Officers who attended commented, “I thought the youth participation was amazing. These presenters did a great job in making it an open environment where the youth felt comfortable to give their input. I was extremely impressed.”

We left Simcoe exhilarated from the successful program and with plans to return in the future. “The youth actually retained so much information. They understood how to apply the legal life skills within their everyday lives,” Kassandra concluded. “However, not only did the youth learn from the program, but everyone who was involved learned so much from the youth. We will use their suggestions and ideas to improve future programs.”

Keep up-to-date with news from OJEN!

OJEN has cleaned its email list in accordance with CASL legislation. If you used to receive our publications, please enter your email address into the box below to check if you are still subscribed.

Your address was not found on our list.

You are already subscribed to OJEN’s newsletter, thank you.