Want to reduce crime? Reduce risk factors.

by Chris Hay, Executive Director, John Howard Society of Alberta

What are risk factors? Risk factors are factors in people’s lives that increase the likelihood that they will commit crimes and become involved in the criminal justice system.  There are many risk factors, including but not limited to:

  • low education
  • poverty
  • mental illness
  • drug and alcohol use
  • negative peer influence
  • poor family conditions
  • lack of resiliency    

On the other end of the spectrum are protective factors which help to diminish the impact of risk factors.  For ease of understanding, risk factors are essentially the opposite of any protective factor.  So, for example, a low resiliency risk factor would be countered by having adequate or high resiliency.  Resiliency is essentially the ability to bounce back from hard times.

One of the goals of the John Howard Societies in Alberta is to work with individuals and communities to increase our protective factors while at the same time reducing or mitigating our risk factors.  Strengthening protective factors and reducing risk factors leads to less crime and safer communities!  

For the purpose of this blog, a significant risk factor not mentioned above and one that is rated in the top 10 of all risk factors is lack of having a job.  And a big obstacle to getting a job is having a criminal record.

This is why the Calgary John Howard Society (CJHS) provides employment support for youth and adults to help them make positive changes and move away from criminal lifestyles. The agency provides a three-week group program to learn:

  • Job skills such as resume writing, interviewing, money management and looking for work with a criminal record
  • Industry-specific training for oil and gas, construction, hospitality and warehousing
  • Self-development skills such as the three-day Alternatives to Violence workshop

CJHS also provides ongoing one-on-one support for clients who are unable to find employment independently, and supports employers with an aim to find job placements for clients.

Even with support, however, it can still be incredibly difficult to get a job with a record. CJHS’s storytelling initiative “I Am More Than My Criminal Record” shares the personal journeys of people with criminal records to show who they truly are. Its goal is to reduce discrimination faced by those with a record so they can get jobs, go to school, volunteer and continue to make positive changes.

Without those things, it makes it difficult not to fall back into their previous lifestyle. So supporting them actually makes the community safer for everyone!