Social solution to budget woes: a job instead of prison

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Manitoba has a deficit issue because we have too many expensive problems.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/02/2017 (2102 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba has a deficit issue because we have too many expensive problems.

One such problem is Manitoba’s costly approach to incarceration. The Pallister government has the opportunity to change course toward a more fiscally sustainable path. By engaging social enterprises providing jobs and training to those leaving the justice system, the Pallister government can curb Manitoba’s runaway justice costs.

In a 2014 report, Manitoba’s Auditor General warned that building enough jail cells to keep up with forecasted incarceration rates would require $600 million for the cells and another $160 million for annual operating costs.

On this file, the Pallister government has three options. They can decide to follow the same path as the previous government, by building new prisons and adding them to the operating costs of annual budget projections.

The second option is to cancel prison expansions and put a hiring freeze on much-needed new correctional officers.

Unfortunately, this will only exacerbate the already critical overcrowding issues. It will also drive up overtime beyond the $6,000 per adult that is already paid to overworked correctional officers.

These options are both ineffective because they fail to address the real issue: Manitoba’s recidivism rates are the highest in the country.

Alarmingly, three out of four people getting out of jail are back in contact with the justice system within two years.

The smartest option available to the Pallister government is to take the advice of both the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and the Winnipeg Police Service, and partner with Manitoba’s social enterprise sector, which can focus on lowering recidivism rates.

Social enterprises, or non-profit businesses, are a key component of an emerging global movement that some are calling the “problem-solving sector.” We offer a creative path to help address Manitoba’s fiscal challenges.

One of the many benefits social enterprises deliver is we move people into the workforce who might otherwise be incarcerated.

The Pallister government doesn’t need to try something new and hope it works. Social enterprises such as those at BUILD, Manitoba Green Retrofit, North End Community Renewal Corporation, New Directions, Aki Energy and the Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation have created nearly 200 jobs through work contracts.

We have found that odds of reoffending are cut in half when people have access to supportive employment.

This good news is thanks to Manitoba Housing, which awards $6 million a year in contracts to our sector.

Taxpayers will be pleased to learn this “social procurement” strategy earns the Manitoba treasury $1.70 for every dollar invested in complementary training and wraparound supports.

Manitoba’s social enterprise community has offered to partner with the Pallister government to increase jobs fivefold, reaching 1,000 within just five years. This strategy would dramatically lower costs in many areas of government, most notably justice and social assistance.

We can do this by looking to Scotland, where they have used social procurement to expand the number of social enterprises that hire people with barriers to employment to 1,500. In Scotland, all government contracts must value the added benefits that reduce costs to taxpayers, such as reduced incarceration. Tenders that do not must receive special exemptions from a committee of cabinet.

Our plan involves growing existing social enterprises and starting new ones in Portage la Prairie, Thompson and at several women’s centres around the province.

We don’t have to remind Premier Brian Pallister that being a conservative means making government more affordable, and the best way to do that is to make it easy for problem-solvers. He has called for “all hands on deck” to address our fiscal challenges.

Social enterprises are ready and willing to be a part of the solution.

Shaun Loney is the co-founder of several social enterprises in Manitoba, including BUILD. His latest book, An Army of Problem Solvers: Reconciliation and the Solutions Economy, has been on Manitoba’s bestseller list since October.

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