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 its member affiliates; and
- Advances collaborative relationships and communication among individuals and organization dedicated to social justice.
SLSC strives to be a leading learning organization, respected by peers and the community at large for researching and promoting “what works” in community corrections and other areas of social justice.
- Social Responsibility: SLSC believes in acting ethically and effectively to address the needs of the community and its members as they pursue their mission. SLSC promotes socially responsible conduct throughout the justice system.
- Integrity: SLSC believes in acting with consistency, honesty, fairness and respect. They are accountable and their operations will be transparent and evaluated.
- Vision: SLSC believes in the power of vision to inspire, encourage learning and creativity in realizing their mission. As leaders, they believe their vision will be rallying call for other to join out quest for safe communities. They work closely with their members, volunteers and partners to affect system-wide change.
- Commitment: SLSC believes that action must be sustained by determined and enthusiastic dedication in order to achieve positive social change. Long-term commitment and an appreciation of their history are integral to their progress.
- Human Worth: SLSC believes in the inherent worth and potential of all individuals.
Building Safer Communities…
In 1962, the first St. Leonard’s Half-way home opened its doors in Windsor 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 the ex-convict navigate the passage from incarceration to freedom making it easier for himself 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 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 labor 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 him 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. The St. Vincent de Paul Society, who serve 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.
…And 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, the St. Leonard’s Society of Canada was founded to expand upon work begun in a halfway home 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 an ex-con through guidance, counseling, and understanding. St. Leonard’s also advocates 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.
The Society 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. Program have been expanded to include life skills and job placement training, intermittent programs and Lifeline which helps those who have received long-term sentences to readjust to “life on the outside.” Today there are seven (7) Society homes and affiliates across the country. St. Leonard’s Society continues to be active in Correctional Services and frequently presents to parliament and other provincial government legislatures on issues that concern the incarcerated and released offender. We also organize seminars for the public and develop 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.
“Unless our society can redeem those who go astray, we can hardly call ourselves civilized; and, anyone doing the work being undertaken in St. Leonard’s halfway houses deserves the support of all who believe in human dignity.”
– Stanley Knowles, M.P.
The St. Leonard’s Society of Canada continues its work in response to the changing social justice environment in Canada.