Resources needed for ‘rehabilitation revolution’

Government plans for former offenders to mentor prisoners as part of its ‘rehabilitation revolution’ must be backed up with effective recruitment, investment and training, a leading academic has said.

An evaluation by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University is the first time the government’s plan to deploy offenders and former offenders in mentoring roles has come under scrutiny.

Professor Del Fletcher has carried out the review of the approach, currently run by some prisons and trusts across the UK and found that the schemes had many positives – but risked failure if resources were not provided.

Justice secretary Chris Grayling MP has launched a ‘rehabilitation revolution’ for former prisoners, saying: “I want them to be met at the prison gate, to have someone who knows where they are, what they are doing, and can be a wise friend to prevent them from reoffending.”

Professor Fletcher’s analysis, which includes a series of best practice recommendations, shows the government needs to inject sufficient resources if approaches such as “buddying-up” schemes are to work.

He said: “Effective recruitment, training and support processes are essential if peer interventions are to be successful. There is clear evidence that prisoners would rather listen to advice and receive support from former offenders, but there can be a relatively small pool of people willing to undertake this role who fulfil the necessary criteria.

“Peer interventions have a significant role to play in engaging and providing additional support to offenders.  However, it is important that providers proceed with care – these schemes are not cheap.”

The number of mentoring projects has grown rapidly over the past decade. The Mentoring and Befriending Foundation has mapped 3,000 UK mentoring and befriending projects, with more than half being established in the past five years.

Many target young people, socially isolated individuals and those with mental health problems, offenders and ex-offenders and individuals with substance or addiction issues, or physical and learning disabilities.

Schemes include The Toe to Toe Reading Plan run by the Shannon Trust, Prison Listeners and the Peer Advice Project run by St Giles Trust.

To read Del’s report, click here