Readjusting to normal life can be hard for young offenders who struggle to find a job or a place in the community and thus risk returning to crime. But a project which trains them in volunteer work can build the confidence and sense of belonging they need to stay straight. Raymond Ross reports.
A project to enable 500 young offenders in Scotland to improve the quality of life for themselves and their communities has received nearly pound;500,000 from the National Lottery Charities Board.
Young Offenders - Youth Opportunities (YO YO) is run by the Prince's Trust Volunteers Scotland to help young people develop skills and confidence for employment or further education. The three-year grant will pay for a full-time project manager, five full-time support workers, staff and training for offenders.
"Our normal target group is long-term unemployed young people, which naturally includes young offenders, but this project will help us increase the focus on young offenders," says Michael Hankinson, divisional director of the Prince's Trust Volunteers Scotland.
"A previous Lottery grant enabled us to expand our capacity. Now we can concentrate on a particularly disadvantaged group of young people. So it's a good, clear follow-on." Most young offenders involved over the past three years have been male, and almost half were 16 to 18 years old. Theft and assault were the most common offences.
The primary objective is to give young offenders the necessary team skills and positive attitude to get on in life. Last year 65 per cent of unemployed youngsters on the Prince's Trust programme found a job or moved into further training within three months of leaving. Of the 1,070 young people who took part, around 10 per cent were probably young offenders - not all declare the fact.
"We want to double the number of young offenders and bring them on board in a more formal way," says Mr Hankinson. "With the new project, which we expect to have up and running by Christmas, young offenders will be selected and referred to us by statutory agencies and other organisations, such as SACRO (Scottish Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders), APEX Scotland, Barnardos and the Airborne Initiative, to provide an integrated approach to improving opportunities and choices.
"The majority of young offenders come to us through the Government's New Deal programme, so they are paid the jobseekers' allowance. If we find some are not eligible for this, we can fund them separately."
Over the next three years the Trust aims to support the 500 young offenders and their communities through 360 programmes, with over 700 community projects and 3,500 community placements. Two young offenders will be integrated into each volunteer team.
"The YO YO project will support young offenders who are disadvantaged through lack of access to services. It will focus particularly on our activity in Glasgow as a testbed, with all results being fully integrated into our programmes across Scotland. It will aim to promote positive attitudes to learning and employment through an enhanced Prince's Trust Volunteers personal development programme," says Mr Hankinson.
Success stories in Glasgow include characters like Sam Ferguson (not his real name), aged 25, who spent four months in Barlinnie after convictions for stealing to feed his heroin addiction. He joined the Maryhill team in 1996 after three months sober, and completed the 12-week programme gaining SCOTVEC modules and first aid certification. He was recruited as an assistant team leader on two programmes and joined a community personal development programme in Namibia. Sam is now at college, studying sound engineering, and says he will not re-offend as "life has too much to offer".
The Trust faced, however, a 30 per cent drop-out rate last year. "This is much higher than we want it to be," admits Mr Hankinson. "A lot of the drop-outs are caused either by disruptive behaviour - and I mean disruptive - or by personal difficulties of which the biggest is homelessness." He welcomes the Scottish Executive's announcement last month of pound;6m to help the homeless. "About 30 per cent of our young people were registered homeless, and they can only stay on if they're well supported. They need stability to be able to undertake a 12-week full-time programme."
The programme, delivered through franchise partners, further education colleges or organisations like Scottish Power Learning, with the Trust acting as enablers, is in four stages: 1 Induction, team building and project planning; 2 Volunteers are involved in community-based projects followed by individual placements; 3 The final team project; 4 Final review, presentation.
Community projects have ranged from installing smoke alarms in homes to acting out emergency situations in a Stranger Danger presentation to primary schools.
"It's not a macho or militarist programme as some people seem to think, or as the media sometimes present it," says Mr Hankinson. "It allows young people to do things they might not normally do in order to team build and develop trust."
A lot of the community projects involve primary and special schools. "We are always keen to work with schools, especially special needs schools. Team projects are intended to be of lasting benefit to the community. Building a playground for a school is something the team can see is tangible and lasting. They can look over the school fence years later and think 'I did that!'" This year the Trust hopes to have 100 teams, each with at least two projects. Based from Peterhead to the Borders, and soon to be in Inverness and Dumfries and Galloway, projects include tree planting in country parks for the National Trust for Scotland.
Teams do their own fundraising, get their own materials and spend two weeks on a project. Skills demonstrated are recorded in a log book. The final week culminates in a special presentation in front of parents, friends, employers and enablers, as well as representatives of local government, industry and community organisations.
"Through YO YO these young people will acquire knowledge, skills and key attributes such as initiative, enthusiasm... caring and tolerance. It will provide opportunities for active citizenship, increased social awareness and a broader role in community life," says Mr Hankinson.
Prince's Trust Volunteers Scotland, tel: 0141 331 0211
* Case study
John MacLeod, aged 20, left Bishopbriggs High School, East Dunbartonshire, with three Standard grades in maths, English and craft and design. After attending college for a year "on and off" he worked as a labourer. Offences (non-custodial convictions) include possession of cannabis. He joined Prince's Trust Volunteers in March.
"I was hopeless at school because I was never there. I was always being suspended for fighting and giving cheek. Sometimes the police were called in and eventually I was expelled. I think school did let me down because I did put in the work even though I was fighting. They should have kept me to work instead of always suspending me. I don't think I let myself down.
"I heard about the Prince's Trust through a pal who had got their stuff through the Job Centre. I went with him on the Open Day and got taken on too. It gives you a different outlook on life, you meet lots of different people and it gives you better prospects. I enjoy the team building part the most. I'm an assistant leader now and have done a lot of fund raising with car washes and raffles. Most folk are helpful but some do tell you where to go. You have to ignore that. It's a good mix of people on the programme. It gives you confidence and prepares you for the job you want.
"I'd love to work in the motor sport industry. I like to think I'm a bit of a rally driver, but to be honest a job driving a bus will suffice!
"I'd recommend the Prince's Trust. It does change your life."
* Case study
Johnny Fitzsimmons, aged 21, left school (Holyrood High School, Glasgow) with one Standard grade (maths). He worked as a salesman for four years and loved it. Offences (non custodial convictions) were mostly related to car theft but also included breaking into shops and pubs ("never houses unless they were empty"). He joined the Prince's Trust six weeks ago.
"School was all right. I stuck it till I had to, then left to get a job. I enjoyed sport, especially football, and working with my hands. I liked the good teachers and I liked working with wood. I didn't get into trouble until after I left school and I haven't offended for over a year. Aye, school treated me okay.
"I heard about the Prince's Trust when I was doing a painting course at a community hall in Maryhill. They were actually running this programme from premises next door. That's how I got involved.
"My confidence was sky-high when I was selling. But I was unemployed then for 11 months and lost it all. This programme has given me it back. But I hate having to fill out the log book (SVQ) because I can't spell.
"It's great meeting all sorts of different people and the team work really builds confidence. It makes you feel good. It's important because I want to join the army and this is good preparation, I think. I'd like to join the Parachute Regiment if I'm good enough, but I'm happy to go in as infantry. You have to for the first six months anyway. I've spoken to a lot of people about it and I definitely want to join.
"The Prince's Trust has allowed me to see a good bit of my country and that's great. I've learned some first aid and it's good to be working outdoors doing the cleaning and painting at Mugdock Park. Aye, I'd recommend it. There's nothing bad about it."