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March 2013 — Mentoring

Minutes of the All-Party Penal Affairs Parliamentary Group, held on
5 March 2013 at 5.00 pm in Committee Room 6, House of Commons

Mentoring Offenders

Madeleine Rudolph, Commissioning Advisor – Mentoring, Volunteering and Service User Engagement, Ministry of Justice (NOMS)
Jane Barkes, Project Manager of the Footprints (Mentoring) Project for Ex Offenders returning to Dorset and South Somerset
Daniel High, ex-offender, mentored by a Footprints volunteer
Daniel Smy, ex offender, mentor for Footprints
Terence Rosslyn Smith MBE, Trustee of Footprints



Paul Goggins MP, in the chair
Lord Bradley
John Glen MP
Baroness Howe
Earl of Listowel

Paul Goggins MP welcomed everyone to the meeting, and especially the five speakers, who would be talking about the very interesting topic of mentoring with offenders. The Secretary of State for Justice, in the consultation paper Transforming Rehabilitation, had said: ‘My vision is very simple. When someone leaves prison I want them already to have a mentor in place. I want them to be met at the prison gate, to have a place to live sorted out, to have a package of support set up, be it training or drug treatment or an employability course. I also want them to have someone they can turn to as a wise friend as they turn their lives around.’  Everybody in this room would have been encouraged and interested by those words: they all saw that as a very important part of the support offered to offenders and ex-offenders. It therefore seemed timely to have the opportunity to find out more. He was particularly pleased to introduce the five speakers, a rich panel, and invited Madeleine Rudolph to begin.

Madeleine Rudoph began by warning that she would be a dry speaker, but that things would get more interesting with subsequent speakers.  She said that NOMS had been interested in the topic of mentoring for some time. She continued: ‘We began a grants programme in November 2011, when we asked for applications from a range of voluntary sector organisations to work with us to improve the infrastructure, support and competence of organisations delivering mentoring. We received over 100 applications. It was extremely competitive, and that immediately flagged to us that this was a really big area of interest. A huge number of people are involved in this already. We selected eight organisations to receive those grants and they will continue to work with us until March 2014.

Our interest in mentoring was sparked not just because of the availability of grant funding, although that was lovely. We also had to decide how to spend it wisely. We were hearing more and more about mentoring. We accept it has been around for a long time. As an organisation we have recently restructured. Like everyone we are trying to work out how to get the best value for money. Mentoring was clearly something a lot of people were doing but we didn’t have a clear evidence base for it. And so we were really excited and interested to find out how we can best advise our commissioners on how they can spend their funds appropriately and get the best out of mentoring.

Mentoring has a variety of definitions, which makes it really difficult from our perspective in trying to advise commissioners on the evidence base, what works best and how best to spend their money. Mentoring is intended to provide a beneficial, purposeful relationship in which an individual provides support to another person to enable them to make positive changes in their life. Within the criminal justice system, mentoring frequently aims to reduce offending, assist in the resettlement process and improve offenders’ socialisation and engagement with their communities.  However there is no specified model of delivery.

Mentors are usually volunteers, including ex-offenders – which is being talked about at the moment – often people who have been through similar life experiences. Mentoring is usually based on a one to one relationship, but in some models a group of volunteers work together with one offender. In some situations mentors are paid, sometimes they are not peers. Peers can mean different things in different groups. For example, in one organisation we work with, the Care Leavers Association, they are working with people who have experience of the criminal justice themselves, but who have also been in care themselves.

All of that means that it is really difficult to get an evidence base together, because we don’t really have a clear view of what it is we are dealing with. The Secretary of State clearly does have a vision of mentoring. But in terms of collecting research evidence, it’s difficult.

The NOMS volunteering and mentoring grants programme aims to improve the infrastructure and encourage more people into mentoring. Sova undertook a mapping exercise for us in 2012, to demonstrate geographical availability. They found that there were around 280 services providing mentoring in England and Wales. They estimated that there were around 7,000 trained and active mentors supporting offenders and ex-offenders, which is a huge number. They also found that over 100 services working with offenders, which were not providing mentoring at the moment, were interested in doing so, provided they had access to the appropriate training and support. There was quite a variation in availability of services across different areas.  Big urban areas like London have lots of offenders and lots of mentoring services, but in more rural areas, whilst there were fewer offenders, there were also considerably fewer mentoring services.

Where are we heading? A Justmentoring website is being developed, a fully searchable website which lists all of these services. Case workers, offenders in the community and their families, and prisoners via Virtual Campus, can search for mentoring services, and can refer themselves. At the moment, as we know, people are often imprisoned some distance from home, where there is not necessarily a good knowledge of the small local services in their home area.

The evidence tells us that there is a huge diversity of service types, with different aims and different methods of delivery. Mentoring is often provided as part of a package of support, for example by a housing service or a drug and alcohol service, but sometimes as a stand-alone. As a result there is limited high quality research, but the results from what is available are promising.  What it shows us is that mentoring contributes to an offender’s journey of desistance alongside a range of other services. We have sponsored a project to improve the evidence base, particularly to support smaller organisations to demonstrate the intermediate outcomes they are able to achieve. So rather than saying to small voluntary organisations: ‘you must demonstrate a reduction in reoffending. This must be statistical, robust evidence’ – you simply can’t do that with the number of people working in these organisations – we are saying: if we can help you to demonstrate that you can move somebody along the journey to housing, or to greater engagement with their community, or to employment, that would be very helpful to everyone to understand mentoring.

Things that we recommend at the moment, in brief, are: that resources should be focused on those at points of transition – that is often where we lose people, especially when they are coming out of prison; that all services should have strong quality assurance methods in place; that mentoring should relate to identified needs rather than being blanket provision; and that there should be a big focus should be on the mentor-mentee relationship.’

Paul Goggins MP thanked Madeleine Rudolph and invited Jane Barkes to give an introduction to the Footprints project.

Jane Barkes began:

‘Established in 2005, Footprints is a charity mentoring those leaving prison and returning to Dorset and South Somerset. Historically we have been funded by charitable trusts and donations. Working with over 100 people released from custody each year, we have a part time staff of 5 and about 30 volunteers, who are involved as trustees, fundraisers, prison liaison co-ordinators and of course volunteer mentors.  We accept referrals from anyone in custody so long as they are going to live in our area, and we have an active presence all four Dorset prisons and our ‘local’ women’s prison, Eastwood Park in Gloucestershire.

We recruit, security check and train volunteers as mentors from the various different rural communities in Dorset and South Somerset. They are men and women of all ages, and include those who have served time in prison as well as addicts in recovery, so-called peer mentors.  We closely monitor their work and supervise their mentoring, especially necessary with those who have a history of being vulnerable themselves and whose confidence is easily knocked.

Our potential clients/mentees, who can self-refer when in prison, say they want to change their behaviour and to stop the cycle of reoffending that has dominated their life.  However, ensuring they will engage with us on release can be a very different story.  Change can only happen when a person is ready for it and when all parts of the jigsaw puzzle can be put in place at the right moment to help facilitate this process.

A typical case may be like this: he or she will have a history of being abused, physically and/or mentally, will more than likely have been excluded from school at an early age, may be illiterate, have spent time in care and young offender institutions, have alcohol and/or drug addictions and mental health problems. Few have links with family members and for those that do, the families have reached the end of their tether, and are unlikely to accept them back into their homes. They have been lied to all too often. Their crimes may be of a violent nature and include robbery and burglary.  Most of these people will cite the cause of their crimes as being to do with their addiction – they are either feeding their habit or acting under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Other client types may include, for example, an older sex offender imprisoned late in life for a crime committed years previously.  He is quite likely to leave prison as an old man ready to draw a pension and with inevitable healthcare needs.  He may have had a loving family in the past, but on hearing about his conviction, they have deserted him and do not wish to see or support him on his release.  Sex offenders are perhaps the most disliked by the public, and some of the most vulnerable on release.   Another is what can only be described as inadequate, has problems with mental health, suffers from depression and anxiety attacks and is incredibly vulnerable to being victimised and may not be able to leave their accommodation without support.   All these people need help if they are not to return to the lifestyle with which they are most familiar. They are very vulnerable and in turn this may make those they come into contact with equally so – that is, the public.

Prior to release, we try to ensure that accommodation has been arranged – this is not always the case. We organise a mentor who is most suited to meet the needs of the mentee, who will ideally visit them and start building a relationship with them. We liaise with prison and probation to ensure that the risk factors of working with each client have been assessed.    On the day of release, our staff and volunteer mentors collect the mentees at the prison gate, providing them with basic requirements such as a mobile phone, toiletries and food, clothing and so forth. The mentor will accompany the mentee to appointments and help him or her to help him/herself and to move forward at all times.  This is done by ensuring that they can access the healthcare they need, attend to their substance misuse issues, that they have applied for and can access their benefits and that they will soon be in a position to attend training or voluntary work, or indeed work. The idea is to try to help them to avoid a return to substance abuse. Each individual is treated as such and it is essential to look at their needs and aspirations holistically.

The mentee’s journey can be a very, very rocky one. These vulnerable and chaotic lives cannot be turned around overnight. Some will cease to engage on their release from prison.  Some will almost immediately return to their preferred addiction, disengage from their mentor and are most likely to be seen again in prison. Others will manage to remain clean for longer than previously experienced.  They may manage to stay away from crime for more time than before, and indeed if they do reoffend, it may be a less serious offence

We monitor and evaluate our work constantly, both with our mentees in the community and those who return to prison.  We delight in seeing those that we have worked with, on seemingly numerous occasions, finally getting it together and succeeding in being clean and crime free, in some cases for the first time in 20 plus years.

Mentoring on its own is a bit like throwing a lifebelt to a drowning man: will they catch it, and if they do will they hold on to it?   To be more positive, is it the strong golden thread that links the prison cell to a range of new possibilities? We know it can be. Let me now introduce Daniel, our mentor.’

Daniel Smy began: ‘I have been a volunteer mentor for Footprints for nearly three years now. I am also an ex-offender.  As a mentor I had to undertake and continue to undertake training on how to be effective in my role, and as someone in full time work I often need the help and back up of the professional out-reach workers to assist my clients.  This is a costly and time consuming process but the personal satisfaction I gain from helping the guys makes it all worthwhile.

Why did I want to become a mentor?  During the time I spent in prison I saw the need to help guys who were in desperate need of a helping hand to keep them on the straight and narrow when they got out of prison.  They need to have someone they can look up to, and hopefully with guidance make a fresh start.

I also saw untapped talents, skills and desire, sadly so often suppressed, and the true hope to get free of the reoffending cycle.  Many cannot, but want to start a new life; they need someone to give them moral and practical support as they step out of prison life and into the daunting world of freedom. From my experience, the first few weeks of freedom can be very challenging, especially if they have no accommodation, no family or friends to help, and often nothing but the tee-shirt and pair of jeans they stand in.

I care about wanting to help people aspire to a fresh start in their lives.  I believe that time and investment in helping guys when they first get out is the best possible chance they have of not drifting back to prison again.  Luckily for me, when I went to prison I had the support of a loving family and close friends to help.  The vast majority of people getting out of prison do not have this.  The lure of old habits and bad influences are very strong.  I was also fortunate to get into full time work and sustain employment as an ex offender. It is a passion of mine to guide my clients in the right direction to work and a better quality of life.

I helped one 17 year old client recently, with a history of crime and behavioural problems, to recognise his talents in fixing motor bikes and cars.  We went to the local college in Weymouth where he took his test to see if he could get a mechanics apprenticeship.  Not only did he get the top marks, he got the apprenticeship with a local garage and is now fully entrenched in full time work.  No longer does he steal motor bikes and cars, he fixes them.  His pride and belief in himself is back, his girlfriend and her family are so proud and he earning a honest crust for the first time.   This is fantastic; this is mentoring at its best.

Please never underestimate that most of our clients do want a fresh start.  They just need to feel we are on their side, guide them to the right places to find help, which is often out there, and above all to give them hope.  Many of them have very low self-esteem and feel they have no future.  Mentoring is about challenging this view and showing there is way forward.

What else do we do as mentors?  We sit and listen, and help our clients set up short and long term goals.  A goal can be as much as making sure they register with the local doctor on release so as to get the medication that they need to take.  We need to make sure these goals are achievable.  We have prompt sheets and monitoring forms to record and ensure that our clients’ quality of life is improving, and that their integration back into the community is made easier.

Often in the first few weeks of freedom, we have to be a helping hand with providing essential food and toiletries until the benefits kick in.  This can often be the most challenging time for a client who has absolutely nothing.  Our help at this critical time can make a real difference in stopping the reoffending.

How do we know as mentors we are helping our clients?  We see, or start to see,  a change in our clients’ outlook on life, their personal appearance improves, we see the signs that they want to achieve their goals and can see a new way forward.  Their interpersonal skills improve, they want to participate in society, and they can genuinely see that life out of prison is a better option.

So in conclusion, our role can often be the vital cog in the wheel and only with mentor engagement can we begin to break the cycle of reoffending.  It is my hope that law abiding citizens not only understand the benefits of true rehabilitation of the ex-offender, but that they also see we are not “goody two shoes”, making excuses for the criminal.  Of course punishment for wrong-doing is necessary; it was right that I was punished.  But how much better society would be if we reduced reoffending and the need for sending people to prison by giving them hope and self-belief. This for me is mentoring in action. The vision of genuine rehabilitation lies in helping people like me, a reformed ex offender, and hopefully many more people from all back grounds who I hope will be encouraged to go into mentoring. ‘

Paul Goggins MP thanked the last speaker and introduced Daniel High, who began:

‘My name is Daniel High and I am an ex-offender. I would like to give a first-hand account of my experience with Footprints. When I came out of prison I did not know where to turn or what to do. The very next day I met a Footprints worker, which was like a breath of fresh air to me. We sat down and we talked about what my goals were, what I wanted to do, and where I wanted to go in my life. Just knowing that they were there, knowing I could pick up the phone, knowing I had my weekly meetings, it keeps everything going, and keeps you focused in your mind about what you are trying to do. Not only that, to have somebody that actually cares about you, who knows nothing about you, who doesn’t judge you: it’s an amazing feeling, knowing that not only are they there to help you, you want to make them proud of you as well. So for me I know it kept me on the straight and narrow.

I felt the Prison Service did let me down when I was released. I was promised a care grant which never materialized. But Footprints gave me food parcels, toiletries, top-ups for my phone, things that I wouldn’t have known how to get without their help. For me, Footprints is a warm, friendly, safe, helpful place to be. You can’t fault the people that work there: they’re a different group of people. Without the mentoring service I don’t know where I would be. I feel I would have made it, obviously. I’m a year out now. I have a beautiful partner, I’m in full time employment, I rent a three bedroom house, I’m settled. But without Footprints that wouldn’t have happened as easily or maybe as quickly: I truly believe that. To have someone pick you up, to guide you through things, to put ideas into your mind that you hadn’t quite thought about, to help you settle appointments, to take you to appointments, to actually care, it’s a fantastic feeling. For anyone who doesn’t know about Footprints I would highly recommend that you read about them, learn about them, and believe in them. They’re still there for me now. I would now like to introduce Terence Rosslyn Smith, a trustee of Footprints.’

Terence Rosslyn Smith thanked Daniel and began:

‘Madeleine has implied that stand alone mentoring doesn’t have sufficient evidence yet to support its case. In many ways we would agree with that. Joined up action is needed. Daniel has implied there that he felt let down when he came out. That is why Footprints is pioneering what we are calling Re-connect, which brings together the following partners to assist those with a serious commitment to change: HMP Dorchester, who have agreed to hold on to this specific group of prisoners to enable them to complete a pre-release course delivered by New Horizon, to inspire and prepare each participant for a more positive future. Each is challenged to change their existing perspective on their future potential using a series of tools and exercises derived from the latest thinking in positive psychology.

A Footprints volunteer mentor will be matched with the client and will visit him in prison to start building up a relationship and assist in preparation for release.

Equipped with a passport to health, personally prepared by the health care providers, and preparations made to enable immediate engagement with the mental health support they may require on release, the Reconnect client will be collected from prison by his mentor and taken to Hope Housing in Bournemouth. This is supported housing, a safe drug and alcohol free environment where clients will attend on-site courses and access training to address their substance misuse, and prepare them for voluntary work and employment.  All the time, their personal needs being addressed, through access to healthcare and personal holistic therapies. Offering this support will help to address the causes of substance misuse and criminal activity.

Last November the Prison Service Journal published an article entitled: “Co-producing change: resettlement as a mutual enterprise”. I commend this. In 2000 I led a study-group to examine the development of “social co-operatives” in Italy, which today employ about 500,000 people. Given the huge problem in finding employment for ex-offenders (employers have told us that if an ex-offender can show a 2 year record of consistent voluntary work then they will look at the CV), and  the issues of literacy and numeracy, it is vital that we explore such possibilities.

Earlier in life, I had the honour of setting up and running Community Industry in Coventry, employing about 250 young people at any one time. Critical to its success with these personally or socially disadvantaged 16-18 year olds were the supervisors with their trade skills, who also, and vitally, acted as mentors. One supervisor was seen in the Birmingham library after work with a young employee. I asked him what he was doing. ”Teaching him his numbers”, said the supervisor, who had reckoned that Billy might be able to get into FE college and get a building trade qualification if he was numerate. He did. That was effective mentoring, within the employment context.

In the Betel project in Birmingham, a drug and alcohol recovery centre, active constructive work is part of the way of life, and that, if you like, is peer-mentoring too.  In Spain I had the privilege of being involved in setting up a building trades co-operative of men who had been in recovery. They had migrated back to the wider society only to find there was no employment for them. They had run small businesses in the rehab, they had done domestic houses, but they hadn’t got the CVs to get a job. They were in the black or grey economy.  We pulled them back to form a co-operative called Cadmiel. That started as five people and grew to 25.  What was remarkable about it, and a learning curve for us all, was that they wrote the seven page disciplinary code themselves.  This too was a form of peer-mentoring, which leads us to one of our recommendations.

Our first recommendation is that there should be effective communication to all offenders in a prison of what is on offer. Madeleine has made reference to the existence of a marvellous website accessible to those still in prison about mentoring.  Taking into account the below average levels of literacy that are prevalent in our prison system, leaflets and posters are not enough however. My son taught in Nottingham, Whatton and Ranby prisons for six years, and he would add that given the low levels of confidence in individuals’ communication skills, personal or even peer help might be needed – a “landing mentor” perhaps?  To-day, modern means of visual communication should offer a way of reaching all inmates, not just those who choose to come to gatherings, by all accounts a small percentage.

Secondly we would urge that there is a need for a full-blooded entrepreneurial component that would facilitate and deliver social co-operatives and mutuals for ex-offenders, nationally.  The groundwork for some of this could be, and in some cases is being, laid in prison, as is being attempted now at Wormwood Scrubs and Styal.  This is outlined in the PSJ article I mentioned. The contention is that such structures as social co-operatives will do some or all of the following: help overcome alienation; give those involved a genuine sense of ownership;  provide the context for the development of a range of positive relationships so that people don’t feel on their own; help address the problem of a negative CV; support desistance research;  and, for some, such contexts will help replace the buzz that has been so much a part of their addiction and/or reoffending. And finally, a social co-operative creates the context for continuing mentoring on a consistent basis. Thank you.’

Paul Goggins MP thanked all five speakers most warmly and opened the floor to questions and comments.