Reporting back: What we learned at the International Coalition for the Children of Incarcerated Parents conference

EFry representatives (L to R) executive director, Shawn Bayes, JustKids manager Kirsty Gordon, and clinical director Justine Patterson shared information about our JustKids initiative. It was a pleasure to meet Madison Strampek, author of Everybody Makes Mistakes: Living with My Daddy in Jail.

By Shawn Bayes, Executive Director, EFry

Last week, EFry representatives joined delegates from more than a dozen countries at the International Coalition for the Children of Incarcerated Parents in New Zealand. This was a major trip for EFry and one we felt was important in furthering our JustKids initiative, which provides specialized programs and supports for children who experience parental incarceration.

In case you aren’t familiar with JustKids, it’s an umbrella initiative EFry launched in 2011 in response to the shocking statistic that without specialized supports more than half the children who have a parent in prison will one day find themselves behind bars. Then, and sadly still today, Canadian governments of all levels did and do not recognize these children as a marginalized group nor provide supports for them. When we learned from other countries that appropriate interventions can greatly improve these children’s life outcomes, EFry decided we had to act and formed JustKids. Surprisingly, EFry’s suite of JustKids programs was the most comprehensive of any group taking part in the conference.

Over the conference’s four days of workshops and presentations, a theme arose: More of the Same is Still the Same. Presentation after presentation spoke to the destructive effect of prison practices on incarcerated parents and their children, and the limited government support available to meet the needs of affected children and caregivers. The global call for change was clear.

 Three priorities for change

  1. Alternatives to incarceration – In Canada, 92% of women inmates are imprisoned for six months or less. Their crimes are non-violent and generally driven by poverty. Public safety is clearly not the issue.The impact of even shorter-term maternal incarceration can turn a child’s life upside down.
  2. Create responses that address the full spectrum of challenges impacting childrenturn are risk factors for becoming in conflict with the law: poverty, material deprivation, addiction, homelessness and mental illness.EFry’s growing system of care, which draws our programs together to support women and children, does just that.
  3. Ensure programs for children address their social isolation and marginalization – Children need the opportunity to develop and grow with friends and peers who understand and support them. This is a big motivator behind EFry’s JustKids Saturday Clubs and Blue Sky Summer Camps. EFry has been able to combine grants and donations to offer children the support they need, when they need it.

Looking forward

We came away from the conference committed to deepening the support we offer to help children remain in school. For those in care, we plan to speak out in support of providing children with stability by remaining in the same foster homes long-term.

Our society supports families in remaining together but that same commitment to stability doesn’t exist for foster families. Often, decisions are made to move children to lower levels of care homes. Funding of foster homes is tied to the skill of the caregiver and children’s needs are matched accordingly. However, as the child stabilizes, he or she comes to be considered as too low needs for the foster home category being paid for, so the relationship is severed and the child is forced to move. Society needs to value the relationship and skill of the foster parent, while also understanding that severing that relationship is destructive and often sets in motion a pay now or pay later response for that child – when it only gets harder to help. There is ample evidence that investments in supporting children while they are young pay off for the child and for taxpayers, who are much less likely to have to pay for later, more expensive interventions – like incarceration.

For more on EFry’s work to support children with incarcerated parents, visit

What it’s like to volunteer at an Extreme Weather Response shelter

By Nancy

I’m an EFry volunteer and recently I’ve had the opportunity to support the Extreme Weather Response (EWR) overnight emergency heat shelter at the Maida Duncan Drop-in Centre in New Westminster. We have space for six women. Each night, four or five women have come in. They can have a shower, do laundry and have something to eat. And do they eat: they are so hungry and so thankful for a hot meal and someone to speak to. They sleep in fits and starts all night, jumping when they hear noises, not quite able to fully trust they are safe.

Before I volunteered with EFry, I’d see homeless women and say hello. But I never really spoke to anyone. Volunteering has given me the chance to really listen and talk with women. I heard the story of “Gina”, who has lived on the street for over a year. She remembers the day she became homeless with crystal clarity. The days since are foggier. Gina has survived, in part, thanks to the kindness of strangers. People have let her sleep in their underground parking on cold nights. Others have allowed her a few hours respite in their strata parking garage before sending her back out into the night “warmed.”

Gina continues to return to the drop-in and she says it is the first place she has found yet in which to stay. While it is so needed, the Extreme Weather Response is only a band-aid as it’s allowed to welcome women between 8 pm and 8 am only. It keeps women alive in weather that might otherwise kill them but I am hopeful more can be achieved. More true shelter beds are needed for women wanting off the street. We were able to help one woman find a longer-term bed at an EFry shelter as she happened to call just when someone else was leaving but I wish finding a bed was easier than being lucky in the timing of the call for help. Unfortunately, women-only shelter beds are completely full. There simply are no spaces.

I am privileged to be able to offer my time and admiration for the women I meet. They are alone, vulnerable, and without resources, finding ways to survive in conditions I can’t imagine. I will continue to volunteer and offer women friendship and care. As long as I am needed, I will show up. I am afraid to hope for warmer weather because as lean as it is, providing homeless women with a mat on the floor, a caring ear, hot water and food is better than nothing.


Rising Senior Homelessness: We’ve Reached the Crisis Point

By Shawn Bayes, Executive Director, EFry

There are few topics as contentious as the cost of housing in the Lower Mainland. As high home purchase prices keep more people competing for rental stock, rents are becoming unaffordable for many and demand for our shelter spaces is growing with no end in sight. At EFry, we don’t use the word crisis lightly. Make no mistake: we are in crisis.

The aging face of homeless in our communities

For more than 30 years, I have worked with EFry.  In that time, we have supported thousands of women facing homelessness. Throughout those decades, the homeless women we usually help are between their twenties and forties, often with mental health and/or addiction issues. What’s really been startling in recent years is who is accessing our shelters now. More and more, it’s families with children and seniors.

We first raised the issue of increasing homelessness for seniors a few years ago and it’s become steadily worse. Many seniors, particularly women on their own, simply can’t afford Greater Vancouver’s housing costs on fixed incomes and so, at a time in their lives when they should be secure in their housing, they find themselves evicted. We have had women in our shelters in their nineties. We’ve had widows who are homeowners but whose late husbands’ pensions died with them and they can no longer afford to stay in their home while it goes through probate.

The seniors in our shelters spent their lives working hard, for themselves and their families. They never expected to find themselves homeless. And they never should have. EFry opens our doors but we only have so many shelter spaces. We are far from the only social service agency experiencing this growing demand for homeless shelter space. This spring, for the first time in memory, we had women we could not find space for anywhere: not with EFry, not at any shelter, anywhere in the Lower Mainland.

There was, quite literally, nowhere for them to go. And that is a crisis.

When the network of shelter providers can’t find one open space in our entire region: it’s a crisis. Forty percent of the women housed through our Housing First program have been seniors. All of them have been homeless half a year or longer. It’s appalling.

What BC needs to do

So where do we go from here? BC needs to invest in social housing for seniors and strategies to help them remain in their homes. Seniors who are homeless or at risk of homelessness must be considered as a distinct group with particular needs. Many have mobility challenges or are at risk of social isolation if affordable housing is in a remote location. They also need support in understanding their options and how to access help before they end up on the street.

Lower Mainland seniors should be able to live out their lives securely in the communities they helped shape.  Our province can and must do better.


The Privilege of Supporting Women at Every Stage of Life

Having a place to call home is a basic human need. One of the programs we operate, A Key of Her Own, is based on the Housing First model and helps find safe, permanent housing for women dealing with long-term or chronic homelessness. Most of these clients face multiple challenges, among them trauma, addiction, physical and mental health conditions, exploitation, abuse, incarceration and extreme poverty. Since the program began in 2013, we’ve had two instances where the homes we helped find were the clients’ last as they passed away from illness shortly after being housed. Below, one of EFry’s Housing First case managers reflects on her relationship with one of these special women, Ms. K.

I first met Ms. K while working in one of EFry’s shelters. An apartment fire left her homeless and took more than 60 years of mementos away in the blink of an eye. She arrived in a nightgown, shoes and a blanket given to her by emergency services personnel. I was her case worker and even after our staff found her housing, she’d call now and then to chat with me. Mental and physical health challenges led to eviction from her first placement. She fell into a cycle of housing and homelessness brought on by illness, hospitalization, and non-payment of rent while getting care. Ms. K’s repeated homelessness meant she qualified for EFry’s A Key of Her Own program, so we were able to re-house her, even finding her a place in her preferred neighbourhood.

While finding housing is the goal of A Key of Her Own, what we really want to do is help people stay housed. That means getting to know our clients as people. For women who have become used to rejection, being accepted and respected is vital to them believing in themselves and succeeding.

Ms. K had struggled with addiction. She’d had trouble with family and other relationships most of her life. Her two children were taken away from her. It wasn’t until she was older that she learned she had Aspergers, an Autism-spectrum disorder that impairs people’s ability to interpret social cues and hampers smooth social interaction. Because Ms. K has fallen out with her family, she could not turn to them in her time of need.

Not long after we found her new stable housing, Ms. K was hospitalized. She called to ask if I would come see her. Of course, I said yes. When I arrived, she had found her addiction recovery achievement coin in her purse and wanted to pray for forgiveness because the hospital had given her morphine. She’d been clean for 24 years and felt bad for taking the medication her doctor prescribed.

While in hospital, Ms. K contracted a bacterial infection. Her body rejected the antibiotics and she went in septic shock. We received word her organs were shutting down. We were able find her son, who was living in a group home, and arranged a final visit for them. The day she died, my colleague and I arrived to see her, said hello and were then asked to check in at the nurse’s station. While were there, she passed away. I truly believe she held on until we came, that she was at peace. Ms. K had received so many empty promises in her life but she knew she could count on me. I am grateful to have been part of Ms. K’s life and happy to know that EFry helped provide her the dignity of knowing she had her own home and that she was a person who mattered.

Inspiration Behind Bars: A Counsellor’s Journey into Prison

by Rikki Fryatt, Clinical Counsellor, EFry

Featured image

EFry counsellor Rikki Fryatt.

“Starting next week, you’ll be facilitating a parenting group in the prison.” My director’s words fell heavy onto my ears. My internal response was squeamish avoidance. My stomach clenched. My heart raced. During my past three years working as a clinical counsellor within EFry, I’ve worked alongside hundreds of women, oftentimes mothers, who were homeless, dealing with addiction and countless accounts of trauma. I had never stepped foot in a prison. ‘Prison is dangerous,’ I thought. Feeling unsafe, I determined that I didn’t want to run this program.

Anxiety over my new assignment weighed on me. I was angry, then scared, then numb. After marinating in this discomfort for a few days, I was gently remind of my professional capacity and ability to connect with marginalized clients who were likely no different from the incarcerated women I would encounter at Fraser Valley Institute for Women. The directive was given and it was up to me to make it happen.

A Desire to Make a Difference

I grew up with a dysfunctional family. Living through my own systemic trauma shaped my desire to be a resource for change. My clinical calling has always been to serve those whom society chooses to bypass. I wasn’t willing to be yet another cause of rejection or disappointment. They didn’t deserve to have anyone else drop the ball on them. I realized that simply showing up with compassion could make a difference. With this in mind, I began to think why not me?

I struggled to juggle fearful uncertainty with my core desire to help society’s overlooked women. I was scared and tempted to throw in the towel but I clung to the compassionate voice asking ‘why not me?’ and showed up.

The prison was unfamiliar, restrictive, and unforgivingly lit with harsh fluorescent bulbs. I wouldn’t be able to offer clients the normal getting-to-know-you intake sessions to establish trust and familiarity. I was immensely out of my comfort zone. However, being entrusted with the task of developing material to strengthen and empower incarcerated mothers was a challenge I accepted.

Just Like Me

The program has now been running for six weeks. Mere words cannot adequately describe the significance of this experience for me. All my fears, anxieties, and uncertainties disappeared as I’ve joined these determined mothers journeying towards wellness and self-betterment. The love for their children is undeniable as they desperately seek hope and change. They express teary-eyed wishes to understand past patterns and break destructive cycles. Together, we explore the role of personal accountability and responsibility in developing themselves into strong role models, positive forces in their children’s lives.

As I get know these women, I see myself: overcoming a challenging past, pursuing personal growth, and striving for a better tomorrow. I’m honoured to dare greatly alongside these brave women and am grateful to be asked to do so.

Culture Supports Healing at EFry’s Am’ut Program for Aboriginal Girls

Sage smudging, sweat lodges and connecting with First Nations elders: these and other cultural traditions are central to EFry’s full-time attendance program for Aboriginal girls in conflict with the law. As an alternative to incarceration, girls ages 12 to 18 may complete their sentences at Am’ut, a 24/7 supervised program based from a home on five acres in Chilliwack’s farm country in the Sto:Lo nation.

At Am'ut, cultural symbols like the traditional medicine wheel are used throughout the program. The wheel's four quadrants represent physical, emotional, spiritual and mental well-being.

At Am’ut, cultural symbols like the traditional medicine wheel are used throughout the program. The wheel’s four quadrants represent physical, emotional, spiritual and mental well-being.

Most of the girls arrive at Am’ut traumatized, both by their lives before incarceration and their time behind bars. Our primary goal is to help these youth realize their self-worth and their ability to build a future that does not include prison. The challenges faced by Aboriginal Canadians are well documented. Poverty, mental health issues, addiction and incarceration levels are all higher for Aboriginals than the general population.

Building Pride in Their Heritage

 At EFry, we believe self-esteem is vital to a positive life. Through Am’ut, we help connect girls with the beauty of their Aboriginal heritage, building both respect and pride in their culture and themselves as individuals. The program is run by First Nations and Métis leaders, with weekly visits by a Cree elder experienced in supporting incarcerated youth. As the girls who come to us have varying Aboriginal backgrounds and levels of cultural awareness, Am’ut is structured to enable everyone to participate in the heritage component in a way that is comfortable for them.

Each day begins with a sharing circle, during which sage is burned in a smudging ceremony. The smoke from the herb is passed over the girls to signify healing and positivity. After this, the girls are educated by a teacher from the local school district. During the summer, EFry hires a temporary teacher so participants’ education continues uninterrupted. Every evening at eight, another smudging circle is held, during which each girl is invited to share her thoughts, what she is grateful for and a wish for the future.

In addition to daily activities, Am’ut offers a tapestry of cultural activities to suit every background and level of spirituality. There are drumming evenings, formal and casual interactions with an elder, visits to a sweat lodge and a long house, as well as monthly cultural experiences like cedar weaving, traditional feasts and Aboriginal games. The girls also receive weekly First Nations language instruction by a linguistics specialist from the Tzeachten band.

Helping Girls Build Positive Futures

By the time girls graduate from Am’ut, we aim to have helped them develop a positive connection to their heritage that will carry over into success as they rejoin their communities. During Am’ut, girls are also encouraged to plan for meaningful futures. One recent program graduate also completed her GED during Am’ut and is now planning on attending hairdressing school. Others voluntarily check in with us from time to time, because they know we care about how they are doing.

“At first, I didn’t want to be here. Now, I feel like I’m leaving my home.”
– Participant, age 15, at her program graduation

Up to six girls can participate in Am’ut at one time. This program is made possible thanks to funding from BC’s Ministry of Children and Family Development.

Opportunity: The Key to Changing Lives

EFry operates approximately two dozen different programs and services, in addition to our advocacy work to pursue system-wide changes. Everything we do has the same ultimate goal: creating opportunities for women to improve their lives and those of their children.

Creating Opportunity in Ways Big and Small

When people can’t count on their basic human needs for food, clothing and shelter being met, providing for those needs is all they think about. If someone is struggling with addiction, getting treatment will take priority over getting a job. And if a woman is in prison, planning for a place to live and a way to support herself when she gets out is a vital first step in building a future that does not repeat the past.

Opportunity comes in many forms: in a hot meal and warm bed, in help locating permanent housing, managing addictions day to day or accessing mental health services. Most of our clients connect with us at their lowest points: when nowhere feels safe, unrelenting poverty has broken them down, when they’re homeless or in prison with no idea how to build a better life when they get out.

Each situation is unique but for all, we see our role as helping provide the opportunity to make change happen. That may mean giving women and children a place where they are welcome and supported through our drop-in centres. It might mean giving them a temporary home at one of our shelters. It might mean helping incarcerated mothers stay connected to their children by recording them reading books and then sending the books and recordings to their children as part of our Storybook Program. For nearly all our clients, support is not a one-time quick fix. We work with women and their families over months, even years helping them maintain their day to day strength to continue moving forward with their lives.

The positive effect of creating opportunity may have been best summed up by one of our clients:

“When I came to EFry I couldn’t stand, so they stood for me.
When I could stand, they stood with me. When I could walk, they walked beside me.
Now I can walk on my own.”

Healing, Housing and Employment

The biggest hurdle most of our clients face is recovering from the physical, mental and emotional traumas that brought them to us. It’s hard to believe in the possibility of a brighter future when hope feels like an opportunity for more heartbreak. Our programs help women have confidence in their ability to change their circumstances and faith they will have people to give them support.

Safe, stable housing is another acute need we see unmet in a growing number of our clients of all ages. Our homeless shelters operate at capacity year-round. More than just a bed for the night, we provide homey environments and help connect women with resources to help them find affordable housing and community services.

Of course, life requires an income. For our clients unable to work, we provide help in accessing social assistance payments to which they are entitled.  To help women leaving prison find employment, we created a business called Asphalt Gals, which hires them to provide site clean-up services to roofing companies. Finding a job after incarceration is extremely difficult, yet for job-ready women, having work is a key factor in being able to rebuild their lives in the community.  Now entering our fourth year of operation, the business has successfully helped many women re-enter the workforce.

Whatever their needs, we know that with the right support, women can and do change their lives. With #DignityEqualityOpportunity, we have seen thousands go on to build bright futures.

What Does ‘Equality’ Really Mean?

As an organization dedicated to supporting marginalized women, it’s probably not surprising that pursuing equality is a key part of our mission. But what do we mean by ‘equality’? At first blush, it may seem we want women to have the exact same treatment and supports as men. However, that’s not strictly true. What we want is for women to have the same opportunities as their male counterparts.

What is Justice?

Like it or not, the truth is biology makes the life experiences of men and women different. There is no place this is more evident than when it comes to responsibility for children. When male parents go to prison, their children are almost invariably cared for by their mother. When female parents go to prison, the vast majority of the time they are single mothers, so their children either end up with relatives or go into foster care.

Think about that for a moment – when a mother (and two-thirds of female inmates are mothers living below the poverty line) goes to prison, she is not the only one paying a price. Her children often lose their home, their school, their friends and their caregiver.

At EFry, we support women all along the spectrum of justice system involvement. We work to address the risk factors that lead to women committing crimes: addiction, homelessness, and the big one—poverty.  Ninety per cent of women in prison are there for crimes arising from poverty: prostitution, theft or fraud. Virtually all of that ninety percent serve sentences of less than six months. Is society safer with these women behind bars or would our communities be better off if these women had access to the tools to legally improve their financial situation?

Should incarceration severe parental rights? Children under the age of five can become permanent wards of the government after just three months. Think about the impact of that from the child’s perspective.

The True Meaning of Equality

For EFry, equality means ensuring women, and their children, have safety of person through female-only homeless shelters and prisons.  It means making sure incarcerated women receive the same statutory and regulatory benefits as their male counterparts. And, it means helping children with an incarcerated parent get the support and opportunities they need to blossom like other children their age. Equality of impact and outcome are the compass points which guide our work.

#DignityEqualityOpportunity. Three words. One mission.

For more than 75 years, EFry Vancouver has worked to support equality for women touched by the justice system. We have achieved many milestones in our journey but there are still many miles to go.

The Difference Dignity Makes

One of the hand-painted message tiles clients create at the end of one of our programs to inspire those who come after them.

One of the hand-painted message tiles clients create at the end of one of our programs to inspire those who come
after them.

EFry treats everyone with dignity. It sounds logical enough. For those of us who haven’t come from abusive backgrounds and aren’t struggling with addiction, living in poverty or incarcerated, we take dignity for granted. Of course people will treat us with respect. Of course we matter. Of course we are worthy of someone else’s time.

For so many of the women we encounter, there is no of course. Their life circumstances have beaten them down so hard and so far, nowhere feels safe. Worse, they have become so used to being treated badly, they convince themselves it’s what they deserve, or at least what they must tolerate.

At EFry, we’re in the business of supporting women in rebuilding their lives. Often, the first step is helping them realize they’re worth it.

How Women Stop Believing They’re Worthy

Otherness: Marginalization and struggle mark people, either by heightening emotions or deadening them. Women can be angry about what others have or be without hope of ever improving their own situation. In either case, our role at EFry is the same. We help women take stock of their lives, make plans for the future and access the resources they need.

Poverty: The vast majority of our clients are’t just low income, they are abjectly poor and live on less money than 97 per cent of the Canadian population. When we first meet them, they are unable to afford housing, clothing, even food. Because of mental illness or addiction, some aren’t allowed to connect directly with government offices to get welfare. EFry helps those folks access basic Canadian entitlements like social assistance and necessary healthcare. Each year, we help thousands of women (and their children) in acute need to be safe, fed, and sheltered.

Addiction: Drugs and trauma go hand in hand. To truly make a positive difference, we help women access treatment, stabilization and recovery. We enable them have their children stay with them while they pursue recovery, which improves outcomes for all. We have seen more inspirational recovery stories that we can count – and we’ll be sharing some of those with you in the near future.

Incarceration: Few things meet with more public distain than crime. How many of us were taught people in prison are ‘bad’ or heard someone say things like ‘lock ’em up and throw away the key’? We know firsthand good people can make poor choices – and with support, they can go on to a lifetime of great choices that benefit themselves and our community.

Dignity is More Than Just a Word

At EFry, we don’t judge. We help.

Dignity is a simple concept yet important enough it is the first word we chose when summarizing our commitment to our clients with the social media hashtag #DignityEqualityOpportunity.

Share Your Thoughts on Dignity & Win a Signed Copy of Orange is the New Black

Between now and March 31, share your thoughts about Dignity, Equality or Opportunity on Facebook for a chance to win a copy of Piper Kerman’s memoir Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison. One winner will be randomly drawn. One entry per person.

Facebook: First, Like our contest post on our EFryVancouver page. Second, comment or post why you think Dignity, Equality or Opportunity are important. Please use our #DignityEqualityOpportunity hashtag.

Why Proposed Life Without Parole Legislation Isn’t Good For Anyone

By Shawn Bayes, Executive Director

As part of its vow to be “tough on crime,” the federal government is planning to table legislation to make the penalty for certain crimes incarceration for life without the possibility of parole. While it might sound logical at first blush, there are four big problems with this:

It won’t change anything about the length of time dangerous offenders spend in prison

Today, people with life sentences have the chance of parole after 25, 50 or 75 years. That word chance is really important. It doesn’t mean it will happen, just that it could, if the parole board is convinced the inmate is is no longer a threat to society.

Some inmates are unlikely to live long enough to reach their possible parole date. Take 24-year-old Justin Bourque, killer of the Moncton Mounties as an example. He is eligible for parole in 75 years. How many 99-year-olds do you know? How many murderers have you heard of that are 99 or older? In the event he lives to see 100 or more, keeping him incarcerated isn’t going to enhance public safety, but it will cost taxpayers.

Even for life-sentence offenders with earlier parole eligibility, if they are believed to be a danger to the public, they will not be released.

It would further marginalize the poor, addicts and those with mental health issues

A significant proportion of inmates suffer from mental illness and addiction, both of which can lead to actions a person would not normally take. Poverty can lead to desperate acts that go very wrong. In these cases, treatment and rehabilitation is arguably a far more just route than throwing sufferers behind bars and tossing away the key.

It removes incentive for the inmate to change and amounts to death by incarceration

Prison-bars-250x188If there is one thing we see over and over: people can and do change for the better. People living in bad circumstances can make poor choices without a real grasp of the consequences.

Picture an 18-year-old raised in poverty, without a stable home or parental guidance, swept up in a gang, being convinced to rob a convenience store and someone dies. With the new legislation, that teen’s life would be over. Today, there is the chance that by late middle age, they might have the opportunity to try and build a positive future.

There are those who say the victim won’t get another chance so why should a killer? The answer lies in whether we want to remain a nation that rehabilitates or whether we want to seek vengeance—no matter the cost to society. Those paroled after murder have very low recidivism rates, so to keep them behind bars until death merely destroys more lives and costs taxpayers money that could be better spent on creating stronger communities.

It will cost taxpayers a fortune that could be much better spent

At EFry, we recognize some people don’t see offenders worth helping. They want them to stay in prison. To those people, we ask – do you want to pay to keep people unlikely to re-offend in prison until they die? Is it worth between $140,000 and $150,000 of your dollars every year to confine a man and $200,000 to confine a woman? Or would you rather spent $30,000 to have them monitored in the community and the remainder of that money funnelled into things like improved mental health support, education, job creation or a host of other things that can benefit society?

There are only so many taxpayer dollars. Do you want them used to build stronger, healthier communities or do you want spend them on building more prisons and keeping people unlikely to reoffend locked up?