Worker Co-op Model Proving Supportive of Rehabilitation

Part 6 in a blog series exploring a community-based response to our criminality crisis

Curator’s note: Peterborough Dialogues welcomes Ralph Gutkin in a blog series exploring an alternative response to the criminality crisis which currently strains society financially and emotionally. His blogs will move through the depths of the concern into what can our region can do about it.

In my last post, I quoted from the report produced by the John Howard Society which recognized how the worker co-op model could be supportive of the rehabilitation process. That suggestion has now been supported by the work of two other researchers.

The first of these studies has been conducted by Dr. Beth Weaver, a researcher and senior lecturer in the Department of Social Work and Social Policy, specialising in Criminology and Criminal Justice Social Work at the University of Strathclyde, in Glasgow, Scotland. She also lectures in the law faculty. Dr. Weaver has been studying the role of through-the-gate social co-operatives operating in Italy. Last year, she published a paper¹ reporting on her initial findings. She notes that the law in Italy establishes co-ops as “collective organisations that invest in and engage the local community and represent the interests of different groups of stakeholders; so there is a strong co-productive element to co-operatives — public authorities, private business, social firms, and civil society organisations not only co-produce the co-operative process, but its culture and its outcomes. Indeed, social co-operatives are shaped and influenced, to a large extent, by their social networks and the culture in which they are embedded… In terms of social values, the people I spoke to cited work, home and family as the ‘social values prevalent in the(ir) community’… the integral ingredients of social integration of a ‘normal life’, consistent with social/cultural norms.”

“(S)ocial co-operatives can help overcome the stigma of a criminal record and discrimination in the labour market…”

She reports that these co-ops “do more than simply providing a route into employment; this paper shows how social co-operatives can help overcome the stigma of a criminal record and discrimination in the labour market by providing access to work for some of those who are disadvantaged in this arena and supporting integration into ‘mainstream’ work… In this vein, the co-operative culture, the relational environment, is as important as the provision of paid work in contributing to the outcomes… They provide holistic and individualised resettlement support for both former/prisoners and their family… They are embedded in and inclusive of their community — they create opportunities for social participation.”

Dr. Isobel Findlay is a professor at the Edwards School of Business, University of Saskatchewan and the University co-director of the Community-University Institute for Social Research (CUISR), which is a partnership between community-based organizations and researchers, promoting and supporting economic development, community entrepreneurship, and environmental sustainability. She has published widely including in the areas of co-operative studies, cultures and communities, Aboriginal entrepreneurship, and law and culture. Dr. Findlay has completed a study² focusing on Indigenous women in Saskatchewan prisons which she describes as building “on suggestive studies in Canada… and in Europe… to explore the potential of prison co-operatives to support women during incarceration and reintegration, empowering women in terms of voice and choice, engaging their talents in productive work, and learning who they are and how they can rewrite their own life stories.”

She cites other research which highlights how the operating principles of the worker co-op model (which we looked at in the last post) in combination with job and life skills training, a community orientation, “solidaristic creating” and utilization of social capital empowers its members to become “independent, self-governing, self-organized, and self-initiated individuals” thus imbuing this group of “marginalized individuals with a new sense of status, identity, and empowerment.” Dr. Findlay concludes that consistent with other studies (Canadian and European) of prison-based co-operatives “incarcerated individuals are more likely to succeed upon their release when they feel empowered by their learning and capabilities and supported by quality social bonds and effective coping strategies… Alongside worrying reports of increasing recidivism and overburdened justice systems, the study’s findings highlight the important role prison-based co-operatives could play not only in work-related skills and income but also in a sense of self-efficacy, of agency as active participants in the social world.”

In my next post, I will report on why the worker co-op model may be a more sound approach from a business perspective than, for example, the other social enterprise structures that we briefly studied. I will introduce an outline of my vision.

Suggested Reading:

1. Weaver, “Co-producing Desistance from Crime: The Role of Social Cooperative Structures of Employment” — The Howard League for Penal Reform, ECAN Bulletin 28, February 2016

See also Weaver and Nicholson, “Co-producing Change: Resettlement as a Mutual Enterprise”, The Prison Service Journal, November 2012

2. “Through the Eyes of Women: Co-ops, Incarceration, and Integration”, paper presented at the ICA Research Conference on Cooperatives and the World of Work, Antalya, Turkey, November 9-10, 2015

Part 1 — Exploring a Community-based Response to our Criminality Crisis

Part 2 — Understanding Systemic Contributors to Crime and Recidivism 

Part 3 — Successful Reintegration Requires Community Support

Part 4 — The Rehabilitative Impact Of Social Enterprises

Part 5 — A Co-operative Approach to Reintegration

Part 7 — The Resilience of and Success Markers for Worker Co-ops

Part 8 — A ‘Delicious Idea’ for a Worker Co-op In Peterborough

Part 9 — Co-creating a Restorative Community