Women prisoner mentorship program faces uncertain future

The future of a mentorship program that assists recently released women inmates reintegrate back into society is facing mounting uncertainty as organizers say its funding is rapidly running out.  

Unlocking the Gates has operated since 2012 and matches former inmates with prisoners released from the Alouette Correctional Centre, a provincial jail for female inmates in Maple Ridge, B.C.

"They have a bus ticket and a clear plastic bag full of their possessions. They're told to find their way home. They don't know what bus to get on, how to get home, and if they are going to make it home. They have no money, no ID, no place to go," said Mo Korchinski, one of the program's coordinators.

Furthermore, she said, finding a safe place away from the temptations of street life can be difficult.

"For someone who's freshly coming out of jail, sending them to a homeless shelter is not safe when other people are using there and women are trying to stay clean."

The program tries to address this challenge. For the first 72 hours after the release, a mentor helps the newly released inmate navigate her return back to society by helping her find a place to stay.

Personal connection

Having spent a decade in and out of provincial jails while battling drug addiction, Korchinski knows first-hand how hard it can be to start over. 

"The biggest fear was ... living in mainstream society which I had never [done]. I had never had a normal job, where do you fit in? Where do you start bridging that gap from the addiction world to becoming a productive member of society?"

Korchinski said it was support from her family and the hopes of a better life and seeing her children again that helped her keep going.

Eventually she was able to get her life back on track, obtain a degree in social work and rebuild her relationship with her children.

"Women look and think if you can do this, I can do this." she said. "You [become] that lifeline for people coming out. It gives women hope that there is another side to my life."

It makes the prospect of losing the program when the funding runs out in October even more daunting.

Funding concerns  

The majority of the program's funding comes from B.C.'s First Nations Health Authority (FNHA).

In a statement to CBC News, it said it recognized the importance of the program but said more stakeholders need to be consulted. 

"What started as a project that was funded by a number of partners has now evolved and the FNHA is sole funder," it stated. 

"The project serves only 65 per cent [of] Indigenous peoples, therefore as the program serves the general public, a fulsome discussion on its future should naturally involve our provincial partners." 

The FNHA says the program's funding will officially be eligible for renewal in February 2018, but Korchinski says funding will run out sometime in October this year. 

For her, the idea of losing the program is daunting. 

"Our relationships don't end after the 72 hours. Our relationships stay for as long as the women want to stay in contact and I can support," she said.

"If I can make a difference and save one person's life, this program is so worth it."  

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled Women prisoner mentorship program faces uncertain future