11/06/2012 10:34 EST | Updated 01/06/2013 05:12 EST

Prisoner reintegration group wins award, but funding in jeopardy

An Ottawa program that helps former convicts re-integrate into society won a community safety award last night, shortly after they learned they were losing federal funding.

Sherry Simpson accepted the award Monday on behalf of MAP Reintegration.

MAP — which stands for Mentorship, Aftercare and Presence — matches men and women recently released from the jail and prison system with "coaches" who can help them deal with all kinds of hurdles, including addiction, unemployment and homelessness.

Simpson said the group, which has operated in Ottawa for the last 12 years, recently found they were losing $33,000 a year in funding from Correctional Services Canada. MAP has a total annual budget of about $70,000.

The funding cut comes after the federal agency decided to fund only full-time community chaplaincy programs. Correctional Services Canada did not reply to a request for an interview.

"It's bitter-sweet, because one week we hear about the funding cuts, and then the next week we hear that we've won this wonderful award recognizing our contribution to the community here in Ottawa for safety," said Simpson.

"So we're sad, we're worried that we may not be able to continue if that portion of that funding doesn't come back to us somehow," she said.

Program praised as life and cost saver

David Atkins, who works with Alpha Canada Ministries as an advisor to prisoners, nominated MAP for the award. He said the largely-volunteer group not only helps turn lives around, but also prevents further victimization, and saves an estimated $2 million a year in crime-related costs.

"We see that their cost to run their organization gets about a 20 to 1 return on investment when you consider the full cost of what they do in terms of helping society successfully reintegrate these people into the community from which they come," said Atkins.

MAP's federal funding runs out next March. The group has been able to cobble together the rest of its funding through grants from the City, the United Way, and private foundations, but Simpson said it's not enough.

"I worry about the people we serve, because no one is catching them in the system in the way that we do," said Simpson.