Most people working with offenders would agree that the the three keys to giving up crime are a home, a job and a good support network. That’s why Steve Hodgkins founded Jobs, Friends and Houses a Blackpool-based social enterprise which aims to turn people’s lives around. In today’s post, Steve describes how he did it.
I’ve never really been one for figures and statistics.
While some of my colleagues were keen to talk conviction rates and lengths of sentences for offenders, I was more concerned with the back stories and personal plights of those we were charged with catching and convicting. In strategic meetings, I would often tried to argue we should support individuals to desist from offending through skills development and good housing.
My policing career began in London, in Shepherds Bush and Hammersmith, in the late 80s. In the 90s I moved North to start a family and joined Lancashire Police – I’m now an honorary Northerner! I worked as custody sergeant, processing those who came in (and out, in and out…) of Blackpool’s custody suite.
It was here that there was one statistic I couldn’t get out of my head: 80% of those going into custody in the resort were unemployed.
Jobs, friends and houses
I thought that more could and should be done to stop prolific repeat offenders by offering them opportunities to change their lifestyles; to move away from welfare dependancy, complete treatment for substance misuse problems, live in good housing they can be proud of, and have positive, supportive peers.
In 2014 I founded Jobs, Friends & Houses (JFH) – a social enterprise which ‘does what it says on the tin’, by offering all this to ex-offenders, largely whose lives have been blighted by substance misuse and are now in recovery from addiction. JFH works to the Government’s 2010 drug strategy, that stable employment, good accommodation and positive relationships support and sustain recovery and reduce crime.
The model is simple; individuals join us and work on building sites, learning basic work skills and specific trades skills as they help to renovate and refurbish properties across Blackpool. Once complete, these properties are then offered to rent to individuals, who are either offered long-term employment with us through adult apprenticeships or have developed the skills to move into other employment. Each team member is supported holistically, both by their peers and our dedicated wellbeing team.
I’m a big believer that if someone is happy at home they will be happy at work, so we support the whole person – not just the employee on the building site – ensuring their home life, relationships and wellbeing are healthy, happy and improving. This involves a lot of supporting and hand holding – budgeting for the weekly shop, sorting out bank accounts. When a grown man asks you “how do you make a friend?” you have some idea of the personal challenges confronting the adults we work with.
The adults we work with have been addicts or alcoholics, they have come from broken homes or are care leavers, they have spent decades in prison or slept rough and even eaten from bins to survive:
Two-thirds have criminal records, 59% have had substance misuse problems, half have been homeless or experienced mental illness.
I’m now really proud to be able to prove an alternative model to reduce re-offending:
- 94.1% reduction in annual re-offending rates of our team members.
- 86% of team members reporting “significantly improved” family relationships.
- £800,000+ saving to the public purse.
These are the headline findings of an independent academic evaluation of Jobs, Friends & Houses (JFH), conducted by a foremost criminologist and expert on recovery, Professor David Best.
Prof Best and a team from ACT Recovery have been following JFH since its early days, measuring the wellbeing of individuals we work with, their offending behaviours before and during engagement with us, and the impact JFH has on individuals, communities and society as a whole.
There were occasions – when bad decision making, negative relationships, low self worth or poor resilience temporarily led team members back towards old, negative behaviours – where others might have kicked themselves for inviting outsiders in to scrutinise this entirely new and as yet untested work.
But I wanted to show JFH for all it was, even if that meant warts and all.
And courage in this conviction paid off – with these key findings from the report:
- “Before joining JFH the ex-offender clients had a total of 1,142 recorded offences on the Police National Computer. Since joining JFH five offences had been recorded. The average annual offence rate was 2.46 pre JFH and 0.15 since joining JFH. This represents a 94.1% reduction in the annual recorded offence rate.”
- “Using a series of conservative assumptions, the net saving to the public purse in the first 12 months is just over £815,113 – using health, criminal justice, prison and benefit costs offset against tax paid since joining JFH.”
- “Longer time periods of engagement with JFH are associated with:
- better reported quality of life
- fewer drinking days
- fewer adverse health symptoms
- “Being a part of JFH is protective to physical and psychological health.”
Anecdotally, the impact of JFH has been staggering too:
He wakes up happy and goes to bed happy now he’s with JFH (a partner)
The kids’ teachers say they’re much more settled in school since I’m in work (a father)
I feel I’m growing day by day, learning who I really am (a trainee)
I feel safe now, I’ve got structure in my life and good people around me (an apprentice)
And on top of those headline figures of reducing re-offending and improving family relationship and community cohesion, which directly meet JFH’s mission, there are more findings:
- 28 individuals with a history of offending and/or addiction have been given meaningful employment with JFH.
- 46 children are now seeing their parents, most of whom were long-term unemployed, going out to work.
- Eight properties have been renovated, creating 15 purpose-built, quality homes for marginalised adults.
Finally, positive figures and statistics!
You can keep up with the work of JFH on Twitter: @jobsfriendhouse