To promote humane and informed justice policy and responsible leadership to foster safe communities. It:
Endorses evidence-based approaches to criminal and social justice;
Conducts research and develops policy;
Supports member affiliates; and,
Advances collaborative relationships and communication among individuals and organizations dedicated to social justice.
To be a leading learning organization, respected by peers and the community for researching and promoting “what works” in community corrections and other areas of social justice.
SLSC believes in:
Social Responsibility: acting ethically and effectively to address the needs of the community and its members as we pursue our mission. SLSC promotes socially responsible conduct throughout the justice system.
Integrity: acting with consistency, honesty, fairness, and respect. We are accountable and our operations will be transparent and evaluated.
Vision: the power of vision to inspire, encourage learning and creativity in realizing our mission. As leaders, we believe our vision will be rallying call for others to join our quest for safe communities. We work closely with our members, volunteers, and partners to effect system-wide change.
Commitment: action must be sustained by determined and enthusiastic dedication in order to achieve positive social change. Long-term commitment and an appreciation of our history are integral to our progress.
Human Worth: the inherent worth and potential of all individuals.
Building Safer Communities
In 1962, the first St. Leonard’s halfway house opened its doors in Windsor, Ontario to welcome men who had spent time behind bars and needed a secure haven to make a clean start. A practical and determined Anglican priest by the name of Thomas Neil Libby saw the need for a re-entry residence that would help ex-convicts navigate the passage from incarceration to freedom, making it easier for them and safer for the community. Libby was struck by the profound tragedy of the ex-offender; soon after leaving prison most would backslide into their former ways and associations. It was a time when as many as 80% of those completing prison terms found themselves once again standing in front of judges facing new charges. Libby saw prisons as ineffective, dehumanizing places of despair, often little more than graduate schools of crime. The so-called ‘correctional’ system undermined a person’s dignity and hope which inevitably led to more anger, frustration, and violence towards themselves or towards other cell-mates and society. Libby believed in the infinite worth of every human being as God’s creation and that every person was worthy of forgiveness and acceptance. He was concerned with man’s growth as a human being and his dignity as a child of God.
Neil Libby was inspired by a sixth-century French monk named Leonard. Legend has it that Leonard saved the life of King Theodobert’s Queen. The King had taken his wife deer hunting in the forest of Pauvian. At the time, the Queen was in the later stages of pregnancy, and, during the chase, the Queen experienced labour pains. Leonard lived close by and was called to the aid of the Queen. Later, he was credited with saving both the lives of the Queen and her newborn daughter, Bertoara. Out of gratitude, the King granted Leonard a huge tract of land where he built a monastery named Noblac; it was later transformed into a halfway house for prisoners. The King had such confidence in Leonard’s ability to deal firmly but compassionately with offenders. He allowed Leonard to take prisoners under his care at Noblac and then release them when they had proved themselves ready. St. Leonard eventually became the patron saint of prisoners.
The Anglican All Saints Church in Windsor, where Neil Libby had been the curate assistant, supported the creation of the first halfway house in Canada for ex-offenders. Organizational and financial help soon flowed in from other religious denominations. St. Vincent de Paul Society, who served the poor and others in troubled situations, had also been thinking about setting up a halfway house for people being released from prison. Instead of proceeding independently with their plans, they and the London Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church sent a generous contribution to the struggling St. Leonard’s organizing committee. Members of the Jewish community also became involved. Neil Libby made it clear he was building a social support system that transcended parochial and denominational boundaries. He and the other St. Leonard’s organizers fostered a warm and sincere spirit of cooperation among those of differing faiths which complemented the beginnings of the ecumenical movement in Canada.
Creating Second Chances
Neil Libby and his supporters developed their vision of helping offenders to rehabilitate in a social climate where ex-offenders were regarded as unfit and undeserving of any support. When the first St. Leonard’s House was proposed in Windsor, it was greeted with extraordinary resistance. Neighborhoods and local politicians rallied against the idea of housing ex-cons. They waved fists in town meetings, screamed telephone threats to Board members and wrote angry letters to newspaper editors describing the dangers and risks to their wives and children, property values, and business income. This only strengthened the resolve of the founding members and convinced them of the importance of their mission.
By 1967, St. Leonard’s Society of Canada was founded to expand upon work begun in a halfway house in Windsor. In the Society’s archives are letters of support from prominent Canadians such as Lester B. Pearson, Eugene Whelan, John P. Robarts, and The Honourable Andy Scott, who has been the Solicitor General since June 1997 and continues his support and contributions to community corrections. Bruce J. S. Macdonald observed, “Your organization interests itself in providing that needed assistance and morale in a practical way at the time when it can do most good in rehabilitating the ex-prisoner and getting him back into the mainstream of self-respecting and usefully employed citizens.”
From 1962 to Today
St. Leonard’s gives people who have been in trouble with the law a place to live and an opportunity to remove the stigma of being convicted of a crime through guidance, counseling, and understanding. St. Leonard’s also advocates for reforms to the social justice system to ensure that those leaving prison are not returning to the community less able to live crime-free than when they left.
SLSC has steadily grown and responded to the changing needs of subgroups such as probationers, young men and women in conflict with the law, and those dependent on alcohol and drugs. Programs have been expanded to include life skills and job placement training, intermittent programs and peer-mentoring services. Today there are nine SLSC affiliates across the country operating a total of 15 residential facilities. Nationally, St. Leonard’s Society of Canada continues to engage with Correctional Services of Canada, Public Safety Canada, Parole Board of Canada, and frequently presents to parliament and other provincial government legislatures on issues that to people who have been incarcerated and released from correctional institutions. SLSC also organizes seminars for the public and develops position papers on the judicial system.
The strength and heart of our work still rests on building genuine one-on-one friendships with the people we serve in a setting of support. A place where they are challenged to value themselves and to actively find meaning in their lives through education, employment and relationships within the community.
St. Leonard’s Society of Canada continues its work in response to the changing social justice environment in Canada.