John Howard Society of Ontario launches free online civil justice training tool


TORONTO – Today, the John Howard Society of Ontario (JHSO) launched a first-of-its-kind in
Canada free online civil legal training and education platform for frontline staff who serve
justice-involved individuals in Ontario, to help break down barriers to accessing civil justice.

“This brand new online platform – the JHS Learning Hub – is all about better equipping and
empowering frontline workers with the knowledge to spot and respond to their clients’
common civil legal issues, like evictions or loss of income assistance, earlier, and as a result,
prevent their escalation. By intervening sooner and connecting them more effectively to local
legal supports, frontline workers can help stop the costly cycle of collateral justice
consequences,” said Aileen Simon, Education and Strategic Initiatives Coordinator, JHSO.

These free training and public legal education resources directly address information gaps
identified in JHSO’s 2020 research report, Legally Bound: Addressing the Civil Legal Needs of
Justice-Involved Ontarians. That study revealed that unaddressed housing, employment, and
other civil legal issues negatively impact the lives of justice-involved Ontarians long after they
exit the criminal justice system, and that the lack of awareness and access to legal support to resolve such issues is undermining reintegration.

The report also found that justice-involved individuals tend to harbour distrust for legal
systems, and that when they encounter legal challenges in their day-to-day life, they tend to
reach out first to trusted frontline social service staff at community agencies.

“We know from a growing body of Ontario-based research that frontline staff at social service agencies build a rapport and trust with their justice-involved clients and tend to be the people those in need turn to in times of crisis,” adds Simon. “These resources help ensure that these frontline staff are well-positioned to act as ’trusted intermediaries,’ improving access to legal information, and providing warm and supported referrals to legal help.”

Some of the key features of the new JHS Learning Hub include:

  • Engaging training modules, organized by category, that represent the most common
    civil legal issues facing justice-involved populations, such as housing, income assistance, employment and accessing legal aid;
  • Short, animated training videos that walk users through how to spot common civil
    legal issues and provide actionable steps they can take to help clients address them
  • A suite of complementary written handout resources that summarize key points or
    processes within the civil legal system, including COVID-specific changes to legal
  • An Interactive FAQ that can be used to search specific topics and get easy, quick
    answers to common questions
  • A certification option for professional development, where users will be able to track
    their progress as they work through the training videos and earn certificates once they
    complete a set of videos within a particular module, should they choose to register.

The new online training hub will act as a centralized resource to guide frontline staff in the
justice-serving sector through the process of making quality referrals to relevant community
legal information, advice and resources. JHS Learning Hub users will also be able to access
the site’s referral map which highlights some of the key referral locations based on each local
JHS office across the province.

“People who have been involved with the criminal justice system often have other legal needs. These legal matters can have nothing to do with criminal charges, but they can worsen and exacerbate the cycle of poverty and incarceration, making it even more difficult for someone to return to a law-abiding life. This resource will help address these issues before they become insurmountable. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” -Keith Taller, Counsel, Legal Aid Ontario

In building the JHS Learning Hub, JHSO benefitted from the advice of its Civil Legal Needs
Advisory committee, which is comprised of a diverse range of legal and social service experts
from across the province, who bring a wealth of experience providing a range of Legal Aid,
community legal clinic services as well as specialty legal services. The resources were also
piloted and evaluated among JHS frontline staff, and refined based on evaluation findings.

For more than 90 years, the John Howard Society of Ontario has worked to keep the humanity in justice. Through 19 local offices across Ontario, the JHSO delivers more than 80 evidence-based programs and services in support of those affected by the criminal justice system. In doing so, we help build safer, more resilient communities. JHSO’s Centre of Research & Policy specializes in bridging the gap between analysis and frontline service delivery. By collaborating closely with our local offices, the Centre’s team develops policy positions that truly reflect the needs of each community, advances those positions to governments and other organizations, educates the public on the critical issues, and evaluates program efficacy to guide future work.

The JHS Learning Hub was made possible by a grant received through the Law Foundation of
Ontario’s Catalyst Fund. While financially supported by The Law Foundation of Ontario, the
John Howard Society of Ontario is solely responsible for all content.