Mo Korchinski founded a program to help people getting released from prison. (The News files)

Mo Korchinski founded a program to help people getting released from prison. (The News files)

More supports for inmates released from Maple Ridge women’s prison

Founder of Unlocking the Gates non-profit lauds government’s expansion of services

Women being released from the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women in Maple Ridge, and from all other province-run prisons, will have more supports thanks to an expansion of the B.C.’s Community Transition Teams.

Maple Ridge’s Mo Korchinski, who founded Unlocking the Gates (UTG) Services Society 12 years ago to do similar work, welcomes the province’s expansion of services for former inmates.

“Everybody should have someone outside that gate for them,” asserts Korchinski.

Korchinski was an inmate at Alouette between 2005 and 2007, and took part in a research project aimed at better outcomes for incarcerated women. More support upon release was identified.

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They need more than a plastic bag full of their personal belongings and a ride to the Haney bus loop, said Korchinski.

Her peer-support program has been a huge success at the Maple Ridge women’s prison, and Korchinski has overseen its expansion across the province. They help about 170 people every month, she said.

UTG contacts people before they are released, and makes sure they have someplace to go. In some northern communities, UTG workers will drive them 10-plus hours to get them home, or a safe place to stay.

They also work to get them through the first couple weeks alive – the vast majority have used drugs in the past, and Korchinski said they are at risk of using and overdosing after they are released.

Those first weeks are a critical time, and it’s easy for people getting out of prison to fall back into the lifestyle that put them there.

“Changing your life is hard. It’s easier to go back to the streets, and your friends are all glad to see you,” said Korchinski.

The province has now announced they will get mental-health, substance-use support and other services from Community Transition Teams, that are now assigned to all 10 provincial correctional centres. The government is also increasing the size of all teams by adding new health-care and support workers, and tripling the length of time people get services from 30 to 90 days.

“The treatment and supports people get in the weeks following release from a correctional centre are key for a safe transition back into community,” said Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “These new and expanded Community Transition Teams will help people get the support they need on their pathway to recovery.”

In addition to each prison team, there will be a centralized team for specialized clinical support and program co-ordination to all 10 teams.

All 10 teams will include social workers, nurses, peer support workers and Indigenous patient navigators, who will provide short-term substance-use or mental-health treatment, medication-assisted treatment and motivational interviewing, and will connect people to psychiatric, clinical and social supports, among other services.

Korchinski, whose society’s foundation is peer support, said the health care workers are critical. Unlocking the Gates has seen more people being released with mental health problems – she believes it’s a result of them having multiple overdoses.

There is already a team serving people leaving Fraser Regional Correctional Centre in Maple Ridge, and four other provincial facilities.

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