We all make bad decisions which can affect the rest of our lives. For the 85,500 people currently in UK prisons and the many hundreds of thousands more living in the community with a criminal record these decisions can lead to a lifetime of disadvantage and unemployment.
St Giles Trust believes in giving people second chances. We see the person – not the conviction – and put them at the centre of our work. Prisons can be dangerous, depressing places and negative environments breed negative behaviour. At St Giles Trust, we aim to create positive role models amongst prisoners who, in turn, create positive ripple effects.
Our Peer Advisor Programme trains serving prisoners and ex-offenders in the community to become QCF Level 3 trained Information, Advice and Guidance professionals known as Peer Advisors. The Level 3 is a minimum standard required to become a trained, professional advocacy and advice worker, opening the doors to a broad spectrum of employment opportunities.
As part of their training, the Peer Advisors help other prisoners and ex-offenders in the community with a wide range of issues all of which increase the chances of them successfully rebuilding their lives away from crime. Typically, these include help accessing housing, employment, getting in touch with the right support networks and also offering emotional support and motivation to keep people on the right track.
This is a powerful tool which delivers benefits on many levels. People in the criminal justice system are often chronically excluded and difficult to engage with support. They have typically been let down by services so are more likely to respond to the credibility brought about by our Peer Advisors. As people who have been in same boat themselves, they are living proof that change is possible and are kept motivated on the same path to their own resettlement.
The next step is to help them find employment. A stable job reduces the chances of re-offending by one third and is the final stage on the road to full independence and a crime-free life for many people leaving prison. This is why we are so grateful to the City & Guilds Group for supporting us through its Skills Development Fund, so we can offer employability training for the people we help. For many, it isn’t their second chance – it is the first opportunity they have ever had to truly change their lives.
PwC has evaluated the work of our Peer Advisors and concluded that it delivers £8.54 in societal benefits – that is savings in terms of criminal justice costs, increased employment and wellbeing – for every £1 invested in it. These are results that many businesses and firms would be proud to boast of. And they are produced by a section of society who are often rejected by employers as soon as they disclose their conviction.
So it is with great respect that I would ask any employers who are reluctant to take on people with convictions to think again. No-one is asking for special favours - just a level playing field. If you take a chance you might be surprised by the level of commitment and loyalty they will show. People can truly turn it around against insurmountable odds. HRH The Duke Cambridge met some of them when he visited us in 2013. He said: ‘These are people from the margins of society who were able to recover from an appalling start and go on to lead successful, productive and positive lives.’
Someone who has committed a crime deserves to be punished. But they should not be denied the opportunity to move on into mainstream society once they have paid their debt. We are extremely proud to be working with the City & Guilds Group to help many more people locked out of society to join its ranks and turn their backs on crime, disadvantage and misery. It’s a win, win for us all.