Seeing Oneself Community Justice Initiative
The Seeing Oneself Community Justice Initiative (SOCJI) was a three-year project undertaken at the Manitoba Youth Centre to support the development, implementation and evaluation of cognitive-behavioural, evidence based research designed to help Aboriginal young offenders resist the illicit drug use and gang involvement.
The SOCJI was launched in November 2007 and ran until March 31, 2010. The Manitoba Youth Centre and Dalhousie University researchers worked in partnership with the Strong Heart Teaching Lodge Inc., an organization that promotes healing and growth through the sharing of traditional knowledge and skills, to deal with underlying personality and motivation factors that contribute to substance abuse and related criminal activity among youth.
The groups directly targeted by the awareness, skills training and research components of the SOCJI were Aboriginal youth (male and female) in the Manitoba Youth Centre. The program reached more than 150 individuals, including Aboriginal youth, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal correctional authorities, instructors and youth workers, and academic researcher. Over 120 youth participated in at least one component of the program.
The program consisted of three components: cultural awareness and skills training, which involved direct program delivery to youth; development and application of capacity building, which focused on transmitting relevant expertise to interested parties and organizations; and development and application of research, which focused on the generation of research results useful for evaluation and further development of the program.
SOCJI-supported project activities included knowledge building and needs assessments (pre-interview and post-delivery data collection); development, production and revision of facilitator manuals and self-healing booklets for youth, involving project partners and correctional personnel; and recruitment and training of facilitators to deliver interventions to small groups of 8–10 youth who met the criteria for pilot study groups.
These project activities were not mutually exclusive. For example, artwork production and cultural activities were a first step to the process of developing, revising and producing the facilitator manuals and self-healing booklets. The underlying assumption is that these series of activities lead to an increased awareness of personality factors associated with substance abuse and participation in self-healing practices.
Based in part on this relatively modest initiative, Strong Heart Healing Lodge is currently delivering the Seeing Oneself approach in four schools in the Winnipeg School Division.
The evaluation showed that the design and delivery of the Seeing Oneself Community Youth Justice Initiative were generally very successful, and that if the initiative was renewed, its basic features should remain the same. Some of these features include: capacity building activities; unique evidence-based methodology; cultural awareness that contributed to skills-building activities; and partnership activities which ensured that evidence-based research was being conducted with and not on Aboriginal youth.
The funded research resulted in significant reductions in alcohol and drug use, alcohol-related problems, and risk-taking activities more generally, in participants involved in the targeted interventions. The evaluation results also show that the unique program approach improved the attitudes of program participants and provided partners and correctional facility staff with relevant expertise and knowledge for further capacity building. Additionally, it fostered a collaborative atmosphere among the project partners and the youth.
The program has also generated valuable research results, which are being shared by the research partners involved in SOCJI, and resulted in the publication of two academic papers, nine conference and poster presentations, and three related workshops.
Minor adjustment suggested to the program include: ongoing adaptation of the facilitator manuals and youth self-help booklets to ensure they are appropriate to the needs of targeted young offenders; increases in future funding to address the growing preemptory intervention requests; and the inclusion of an evaluation of longer-term outcomes regarding offending behaviour and recidivism.
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