Hello, – cruel world

Most young offenders go on to reoffend. In fact, between 80 and
85 per cent of them are reconvicted within two years. The real
figure is probably even higher. After all, it is unrealistic to
think that all young offenders – and about 7,000 children aged 10
to 17 were detained in custody between 2002 and 2003, according to
the Youth Justice Board – are caught.

Yet young offenders are often very keen to avoid reoffending when
they leave custody, says Gemma Buckland, senior policy officer for
Planned Resettlement into Sustainable Employment (Prise). But good
intentions can fly out of the window when offenders are released
back into the environment in which they offended in the first
place, without employment, training or secure accommodation.

“If it’s not available then and there, that window of opportunity
is lost,” she says. “Any work with the young people which might
have been achieved in custody is undone if there is no suitable
training or education on release, or if they are not provided with
appropriate accommodation.”

Prise is a European-funded project tackling the high levels of
recidivism among young people leaving custody. It is led by Rainer,
the national charity for under-supported young people aged 10-25,
and is a partnership of 27 organisations, including the YJB,
Connexions and the Prison Service. Its overall objective is to
reduce offending and help young people to resettle into a
law-abiding and fulfilling life.

“Most young people coming out of custody are not ready for a job,”
says Buckland. “There is discrimination against ex-prisoners
finding work, but more significant than this are the barriers in
terms of their education and training.”

What makes it worse is that many young offenders have no secure
accommodation to live in once they are released, which makes it
even more difficult to find training or employment.

Paul is 21. For the past four years he has been in and out of young
offender institutions, mainly for robbery. “Every time I came out
of prison I just went back to the same group of mates. We had no
money and nothing to do, so I’d start to rob again. Without a job
or a training course you’re going to end up back inside. We all

He lived with his mother, but she became fed up with the police
perpetually knocking on the door with warrants for his arrest and
he ended up in hostels, living with other people involved in crime
and drugs.

When Paul was released this year his probation officer suggested he
tried the Prince’s Trust. “I was ready to make changes,” he says,
“but I didn’t know how. No one came to talk to me while I was in
prison, but the Prince’s Trust gave me the lift I needed. It showed
me there were other things I could do apart from robbing. The
courses gave me something to do and faith in myself.”

He has worked with the Merseyside Fire Service for three months
now. He hopes one day to work with young prisoners, helping them to
see the options open to them when they come out of custody, and is
being trained in mentoring. This time he is still living with his

He feels the courses he went on and his subsequent employment were
key to his rehabilitation.

The government is concerned about resettlement and, in response to
its concerns, the YJB is putting together a national strategy. This
aims to ensure all agencies work together in four stages:
pre-sentence, custody, community and in mainstream services. The
action plan is due to be launched in April 2005.

Meanwhile, the risk factors for persistent offending ceaselessly
reappear, says Lionel Skingley, senior policy and communications
officer for crime reduction charity Nacro.(1) “They include, for
example, harsh or neglectful parenting, poor educational attainment
and peer pressure. It’s pointless adding to the hardship they have
already faced with a custodial sentence that makes them less, not
better equipped to behave differently in the future. It’s a long
haul to address all these issues, but we must if we are to help
people to resettle.”

Jean Byrne, head of service at Centrepoint, believes supported
accommodation can provide the balance between a strict regime,
which helps the young people feel contained, and nurturing staff
who can build trust and help them make substantial changes in their
lives and attitudes.

“We try to emulate the strict but caring parent most have missed
out on earlier in life,” she says. “We aim to help young people see
themselves differently, with choices and opportunities for their
futures. They have powerful, self-defeating beliefs and need
constant affirmation that they can change their lives.”

This means going back to basics, which most find difficult. “They
have an outward bravado and are streetwise but this masks a deep
insecurity,” says Byrne. “We need to provide the building blocks
for their future, starting with self-esteem. In a residential
setting we have the opportunity to model a different way of life,
with different values. The culture they come from is one of
short-term gain and the importance of material goods but they
respond surprisingly well to praise and encouragement.”

Buckland says: “The figures show we are spectacularly failing the
young people who end up in custody. The range of factors which lead
people to reoffend are the ones that led to the offending in the
first place.”

And this will continue to happen unless these factors are addressed
in custody or on release.


Good Practice In Lewisham

The Mansion House Scheme run by Centrepoint in Lewisham supports
vulnerably housed and homeless young people aged 16-25 in eight
one-bedroom flats. Half the young people there have been in

Alongside support for residents, staff provide a “floating service”
for young people in their own accommodation. Sharon Lewis (above),
who has managed the scheme since it started in March this year,
says: “Because one team works across both static services it means
we can offer much greater flexibility.

“One young woman is pregnant and can’t remain in Mansion House. We
will help her find suitable accommodation and then provide support
through the floating service, offering continuity of services and
relationships at a time when she is most in need of

Residents are expected to visualise a future for themselves without
the negative aspects of their past, such as crime or drugs. The
team helps them identify how to achieve their goals, step by step,
often beginning with self-esteem building activities or life skills
courses, to help them develop the self-belief they need to move

One 19-year-old woman living there has been involved in crime since
she was 12 and has been in and out of custodial institutions for
most of her adolescence.

She is now ready to change. Initially she did not believe she could
make anything of her life, after missing out on her education and
with no skills she could identify as useful to an employer.

The staff helped her realise she needed to set small, achievable
goals that would lead her in the direction she wanted to go. She is
now highly motivated and enrolled in a law course with ambitions
for a career in the legal profession.

“It’s been incredible to watch her change,” says Lewis. “By
offering intensive support and practical advice we can help people
visualise and achieve a different, positive future.”

(1) Reducing Reoffending by Ex-prisoners, Social Exclusion Unit
Report, Home Office, 2002.

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