Another kind of trial for young offenders

8th December 2006 at 00:00
An ambitious scheme that would give guaranteed job interviews to 10 young men from Polmont Young Offenders' Institution, in an attempt to steer them away from violence, is being considered by the Scottish Executive.

The nine-month Violence Intervention Programme (VIP) would also take young offenders out of their community upon release. Families, however, are integral and would be allowed weekend visits to their new placements, where they would take part in activities.

The programme, devised by youth and community development organisation Catch the Light, is an attempt to provide a long-term solution to high levels of re-offending among young men released from custody. It would build on existing work done with young offenders and will go ahead if it receives pound;160,000 in funding. A decision is expected soon.

Ian McDonald, a social change manager, said potential participants - all aged 17 to 19 and from Glasgow or nearby - would be carefully scrutinised.

But he conceded that there was a chance a small number would drop out, in which case they would no longer be entitled to a guaranteed interview.

"We're taking a risk here, to say 'you can change', and ask them to make lifestyle choices for themselves," he said. "We need to get away from other people making decisions for these young people.

"The onus will be put on them. These young men might think they have no skills for working in a business, but look at all the planning that goes into a burglary, we might say. Then they look at things differently."

The programme would take participants through five stages:

* Selection would require 30 potential participants to show a willingness to change their ways, while organisers would look at how much support a parent could provide.

* Before release from Polmont, the 10 candidates would take part in sessions looking at how they viewed themselves, masculinity, positive parenting, peer pressure, and the "soft skills" identified by employers as important.

* A residential programme including outdoor activities leading to accreditation equivalent at SVQ level; talks by motivational speakers from across Scottish public life and young men whose lives are different, such as police cadets; family visits and participation in activities at weekends.

* Three-month work placements.

* A guaranteed interview for a full-time job.

If the trial goes ahead and proves successful, participants could be asked to return and work with other selected young offenders.

The project came about after Catch the Light felt existing services were not joined up enough. It carried out a feasibility study earlier this year with young offenders, families, potential providers of activities, the Scottish Prison Service and the violence reduction unit at Strathclyde Police.

It found that young offenders believed family and other close relationships were the most important things in their lives, and that the respect gained from a steady job was also valued highly. Families, meanwhile, were resentful about how they had been treated by society and the criminal justice system.

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