Open Forum

“Why would anyone want to volunteer with young offenders?” This is a question I am regularly asked when people find out what I do for a living. I begin by describing offenders’ backgrounds: low educational achievement, chaotic family lives, and drug addictions. I also mention that half of all crime is committed by just 10 per cent of offenders and that working with these repeat offenders can dramatically reduce crime figures.

But there remains a feeling that a stiff prison sentence is the best way to sort them out. The media reinforces this by bewailing “lax” sentencing. Is it any wonder that, according to the Charity Commission website, there are more charities supporting cats (191) than offenders (182)?

Yet prison alone does not work. The rehabilitation of offenders must include courts, prison and probation services, and also intervention by voluntary organisations and the local community. A volunteer can make a positive impact and even change the life of a young offender.

But what does volunteering and mentoring young offenders achieve? Put simply, it shows someone who has never had a positive adult relationship that someone else cares enough to spend time with them without being paid. It can help the young offender to gain qualifications, get a job, get off drugs, raise their self-esteem and much more. In due course, it can help them become rehabilitated and law-abiding members of society.

A convenient byproduct of this is that offenders become ex-offenders; levels of offending drop and crime levels are reduced. As a result of volunteering with an offender, a mentor will find that offenders are not all idiotic thugs and their fear of crime will, in turn, diminish. We will all feel, and be, safer on our streets and in our homes. The rewards are there for the volunteer, the offender and for wider society. 

Richard Stunt manages the New Hope Mentoring Programme, which recruits volunteer mentors from local churches to support offenders returning to the community

See Just recycling old prejudices

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