Understanding barriers faced by individuals with a criminal background

December 10, 2021

By Rebecca Small, Wellness Coordinator

Understanding barriers faced by individuals with a criminal background

At NorQuest, we have a team of passionate, dedicated faculty and staff whose work significantly increases the future success of students in a correctional facility.

As with all types of discrimination, the more we seek to understand, the better able we can support marginalized groups to succeed. One instructor noted that sometimes students are impacted by circumstance; intergenerational trauma, addictions, and/or having made one poor decision that fundamentally changes the course of their lives forever. Upon reintegration into society, these choices and consequences are often impossible to leave behind; their criminal records and restrictions limit them on employment or education opportunities.

What it’s like to learn in (and leave) a correctional institute

Teaching and learning in a conventional classroom setting is difficult at the best of times, but there are additional obstacles students and faculty on the correctional units contend with every day. Constant disruptions, classes being cancelled in the middle of a lesson, and the relentless noise and bustle of the facility all contribute to a complex learning environment. Students can also be released from the facility or transferred elsewhere before they have completed their course(s), thus without qualifications under their belt.

When individuals are released from prison, they face further adversity, making it increasingly challenging to successfully reintegrate into society. Poverty, homelessness, and difficulty accessing addictions programs in a timely manner can be a huge barrier. Discrimination from employers, landlords, and the voluntary sector can severely hinder people’s ability to find security and make positive contributions to society. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of reoffending. Without a record suspension (approved removal of a criminal record), past offenders face a lack of human rights protection against discrimination. Furthermore, the cost of applying for suspensions is often a barrier for the economically disadvantaged in itself.

Outside of institutional barriers, the social stigma of those with a criminal record can often lead to social exclusion, even after many years of living crime-free.

How can we reduce the stigma of those with a criminal background?

One instructor highlighted the importance of meeting people where they’re at and treating them like any other member of society without judgment or preconceptions. Being inclusive, supportive, and understanding can go a long way in preventing discrimination and isolation. Educating ourselves on what the prison system is and how it aims to provide skills, education, and training to prevent reoffending can also help to reduce stigma associated with criminal records.

I hope this snapshot into an incredibly complex facet of society provides a level of insight and understanding of the adversity and challenges faced by those with a criminal background. Thank you to the Correctional Education team for all that you do in support of our students – you’re making the world a better place!

To learn more about the different forms of discrimination and its impact on those who experience it, check out our self-guided Intro to Discrimination workshop.

Struggling and need some FREE support? Make an appointment with a counsellor by emailing the Centre for Growth & Harmony  or call 780.644.6155.