Local MPP Sam Oosterhoff (pictured) sponsored the private members’ motion, which nabbed unanimous, all-party support earlier this week. Photo credit: Sam Oosterhoff
On Monday, June 5, Ontario lawmakers from all parties unanimously passed a private members’ motion from Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff calling for the inclusion of multi-faith chaplaincy work on the province’s community reintegration tables, when desired.
The initiative, according to the motion’s sponsor, will enhance public safety by supplementing the resources criminal offenders have access to when transitioning from incarceration to community life.
“Motion 55, calling for the inclusion of multi-faith chaplaincy work in Ontario’s correctional institutions, is an important step towards improving the reintegration of offenders into society and promoting community safety,” said MPP Oosterhoff.
“Having extensively consulted with a number of faith-based communities, as well as prison chaplains in Ontario’s correctional institutions, I was pleased that the Motion was unanimously passed, and I am grateful to my colleagues in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario for their engagement and support.”
Oosterhoff’s motion was endorsed by the Muslim Association of Canada, Jewish Family and Child Services of Greater Toronto, Prison Fellowship Canada, and non-partisan public policy research organization Cardus.
“I applaud the efforts of MPP Oosterhoff in recognizing the work of prison chaplains and support his proposal to include chaplains at Community Reintegration Tables,” said Rabbi Ronald Weiss, director of chaplaincy services with Jewish Family and Child Services of Greater Toronto.
“I know many individuals who have been inspired and encouraged to build a productive life in the community as a direct result of the involvement of prison chaplains serving in the institution where they had been incarcerated.”
According to a media release from Oosterhoff’s office, studies on recidivism from both Canada and the U.S. show that offenders who access spiritual care and meaningful chaplaincy support services while incarcerated are 70 per cent less likely to reoffend.
Currently, there are 45 institutional prison chaplains who serve 25 correctional institutions around Ontario.
“There is good social science evidence that religious programming in prison, which chaplains often help facilitate, helps reduce recidivism after release,” said Rev. Dr. Andrew Bennett, program director of faith communities at Cardus.
“Prison chaplains play an important role in making our prisons safer for inmates and staff.”
In addition to formally recognizing the importance of prison chaplains, Oosterhoff’s motion will ensure representatives from all faiths, including Indigenous spiritual leaders, are included on Ontario’s various community reintegration tables.
As part of the province’s $500 million plan to transform Ontario’s adult correctional system, last year the office of the solicitor general hired 25 new “community reintegration officers” to, among other things, “work collaboratively with institutional staff to provide enhanced supports and services for offenders” re-entering the public.
The officers will lead the community reintegration tables once fully established.