Mr. Speaker, in every community visit, when discussing Corrections and Justice issues, we hear that on-the-land programming helps people heal and reconnect to their culture and values. In the Department of Justice, we know this to be true. This type of programming has long been a cornerstone of programming in the NWT.
In the Assembly last year I talked about work the Department has undertaken to ensure inmates are receiving appropriate cultural and on-the-land programming while in NWT corrections facilities. Finding capable partners with the right kind of cultural knowledge and experience to deliver these programs is essential to their success.
Our first efforts to identify groups, Elders and individuals who could help us deliver the Wilderness Program for low-risk offenders were met with limited response and we were unable to select any qualified contractors. The Department of Justice, however, remains committed to developing this programming and has been actively engaging communities to help identify potential operators.
We believe that significant community involvement is essential for an effective Wilderness Program. Over the last year, Corrections Service staff have talked with communities to ensure potential operators of on-the-land programs are aware of our interest and will be able to deliver these specialized corrections-based cultural programs. We are committed to building a Program with significant community involvement.
Recently, an Expression of Interest was again publicly advertised. We also sent it directly to those who might be interested in partnering with us in this work. I am pleased to advise the responses are encouraging. Over the next several weeks, community partners who may be able to fulfill the Program needs will be invited to come and have an open discussion with Departmental staff. These discussions will ensure both the operators and staff have a strong mutual understanding of the Wilderness Program and associated requirements.
After these discussions, we hope potential applicants will have increased capacity to successfully respond to a Request for Proposals for the Wilderness Program early in the next fiscal year. Aligning the needs of the inmate population and the interests of the operators and staff is critical for the success of this unique Program.
Mr. Speaker, in order for inmates to turn their lives around we cannot underestimate the need for strong community partnerships, support of the Corrections service and the willingness of inmates to participate in these on-the-land healing programs. We are working to be supportive and constructive as we build sustainable and effective programs in partnership with our communities.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.