Since January 2018, every Friday afternoon, one campus classroom in Canada is transformed. Tables are set up with two chairs facing one another; a chess set invites players to begin. An interactive white board shows a game in progress. Off to the side, another board is set up with a “chess problem.”
At half past one, the players begin to show up. The room fills with noisy young voices, sharing how their week has gone and clamouring for cookies and juice.
The scene is like any youth gathering, with one difference: Group home workers and probation officers are in attendance.
All of these youth are involved in the criminal justice system and are attending what’s known as the Chess for Life Program at Alberta’s University of Lethbridge as part of their sentence.
Sentencing practices for youth who engage in non-violent crimes have traditionally adopted a punitive approach — for example, ordering time in a juvenile detention centre. However, research suggests that punitive models have little impact on reducing the chances of reoffending.