Dorset Park non-profit helps youth in criminal justice system get back on track

The Green Line team visited Back 2 Basickz in the Scarborough neighbourhood to learn how its programming helps youth facing challenges with the justice system make the right choices.

By Amanda Seraphina, Aneesa Bhanji and Anita Li, The Green Line

Transitioning from school to work isn’t easy, and it can be even harder for youth who’ve been in the criminal justice system. But one group in Dorset Park believes everyone deserves a second chance.

From post-grad mentoring to entrepreneurial workshops, Back 2 Basickz teaches life lessons to local youth so they can improve their circumstances.

Amanda Coombs, executive director of Back 2 Basickz, said she wanted to serve the local community by addressing a pressing need.

“Dorset Park has a large Black community, right? Over 3,000 youth just in the Dorset Park community alone, and when we looked at some other stats, it said that the majority of the youth — they all have warehouse jobs,” Coombs explains, adding that Black people are underrepresented. “Usually, when they finish school, they continue to stay in warehouse jobs or minimum paying jobs.”

Back 2 Basickz aims to help youth from all walks of life, including those who are incarcerated or are on trial for crimes.

The nonprofit’s Youth Reset program is helping Jayden, 20, work through his challenges with the criminal justice system.

“I got into a little trouble with my friend last year. I just made a wrong decision. But since finding a way to go to Back 2 Basickz, they’ve been helping me just stay on the right path, get focused on my career,” Jayden says. “They actually want to help me get back into school, start jobs and just basically positive things, so I don’t go back down the wrong road.”

Youth with a criminal record often face barriers when trying to reintegrate into society, such as finding a job or place to live. Tara Evans, a mental health and justice caseworker with Back 2 Basickz, says they face a lot of stigma.

“Many of the young people, particularly racialized youth, are faced with barriers in many systems,” she says. “So, their encounter with the justice system is often quite complex where they may have experienced racism and discrimination in the education system, perhaps in the healthcare system.”

A federal study from the Department of Justice, titled “Black Youth and the Criminal Justice System: Summary Report of an Engagement Process in Canada,” highlighted over-policing at school and committing crimes to meet basic needs as some of the reasons why Black youth can encounter the criminal justice system.

But Coombs believes the right resources can help youth like Jayden get back on track.

“Black youth are overrepresented in the justice system. And one of the reasons why most of the youth come in contact with the justice system is because there’s not enough available resources and supports for them in the community, which is one of the reasons why we started Back 2 Basickz,” she says.

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