This is a guest post by Ben Humphris Mentor and Volunteer Lead, of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire & Rutland Community Rehabilitation Company (DLNR CRC), part of the Reducing Reoffending Partnership
Service users at the heart of everything
Peer pressure – a phrase that has, more often than not, negative connotations, particularly within the criminal justice system where many of our service users are, or have been, involved in coercive, self-defeating relationships within their peer groups. However here at the Reducing Reoffending Partnership (which runs the DLNR and Staffordshire and West Midlands CRCs) we have been working to harness the positive power of peers with the development of a Peer Mentoring service that supports the work of our Probation Practitioners. Within the recovery landscape the efficacy of mutual aid interventions has long been recognised, and the role of Peer Mentor can play a valuable, indeed inspirational, part in the rehabilitation journey of our Service Users.
The probation trusts that now make up DLNR CRC had run a peer mentoring service for many years. Post TR we have worked to further develop our Peer Mentoring service and the range of activities that they offer and can support. Peer Mentors are now viewed as an integral part of our corporate strategy that sees “putting service users at the heart of everything we do” as a central tenet.
One of the areas we were keen to develop was greater involvement of Peer Mentors in the co-design and delivery of new interventions. As part of the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2012 a new sentencing option was introduced – the Rehabilitation Activity Requirement (RAR). This requirement provides CRCs with a high degree of discretion in deciding appropriate interventions and activities for those with a RAR, the sentence only specifying the total number of RAR “days” a person is subject to. Recognising that this was an area that Peer Mentors could develop something for, we asked them to design an intervention that they felt would have been useful to them. The result is the Transition and Hope group intervention.
Transition and Hope
Transition and Hope is delivered in a two hour session by two trained Peer Mentors with support from a member of CRC staff. The session focusses on the personal journey of the Peer Mentors through the criminal justice system and the strategies and decisions they make to aid in their desistance. The value of the session is in the way that Service Users relate to, and engage with, the Peer Mentors and their personal stories. Mentors provide real, lived examples that effecting positive change, whilst challenging, is possible and indeed desirable. Mentors are also able to challenge the attitudes of Service Users in often quite direct ways, having faced the same issues and choices, and because of this experience Service Users are much more likely to accept those challenges than they would from a member of staff with no history of convictions.
Peer mentors’ perspective
Former Peer Mentors Jo, Di and Chris take up the story;
“During my time as a Peer Mentor, I had a very exciting opportunity to be part of developing Transition and Hope, a Rehabilitation Activity Requirement. I thoroughly enjoyed facilitating the group, travelling across the midlands to deliver at various Probation sites, and witnessing that the material clearly motivates Service Users towards change. I was given a platform to share my experiences to help others identify that hope is there for everyone.”
“Delivering Transition and Hope is challenging at times but very rewarding. I see a visible difference in how people feel when they come in and then leave the session. It helps to break down barriers, engage people – the key is the personal stories and the examples of hope. There is often a lightbulb moment when people see that change is possible. For people that have been through the system a lot they actually engage with it.”
“I was one of the first people to attend the pilot version. I came away positive and excited about it. I was involved in tweaking the design and then became one of the deliverers. I really liked it and felt that had I had it early in my journey I would have really benefitted. Many people arrive at probation confused, anxious and possibly vulnerable but the involvement of Peer Mentors helps to break down some of these barriers and Service Users often engage at break times and are happy to ask us a bunch of questions and our personal stories help to allay fears, and because we have lived it these messages get through. We provide a lot of practical advice about what to expect, even simple stuff like parking, or what the staff are like, can make a difference.”
RRP has made a commitment to employing former Service Users and we have established several roles within the organisation designed as a first step into a career within the Criminal Justice system. We now employ six former Peer Mentors in a variety of positions and their commitment to our Service Users and their own continuing development is inspirational; demand within the organisation for their services is so high that we struggle to meet it.
In DLNR CRC we are now trialling a new approach to first appointments after sentencing. These are run as group sessions facilitated by a Probation Practitioner and a Peer Mentor and the feedback we have had so far has been very positive. Many Service Users arrive for their first appointment anxious about what is involved and how they will be treated. The involvement of the Peer Mentors goes a long way to allaying those fears and the Service Users find readily trust the information given by Peers.
Beyond that we are about to pilot a New Start ceremony for service users who have successfully completed their licence or order. The ceremony will recognise the distance travelled by Service Users and the positive changes they have made, whilst also providing them with useful information about what support is available post-probation. Once again Peer Mentors have been heavily involved in the design of the session and will co-deliver the first trial.
Peer Mentoring Overview
- Peer Mentors do not replace staff roles – they work in partnership to provide complementary perspectives and approaches
- Peer Mentors are recruited by recommendation from their Probation Practitioner
- The role is completely voluntary
- Peer Mentors undergo a 12 week, in-house training programme
- Training is accredited at level 2 by Skills for Justice and was designed in-house
- Risk is dynamically managed by skilled Probation Practitioners and Peer Mentor Coordinators
- To date, no Peer Mentor who has completed the training has reoffended
- Peer Mentoring and the interventions they deliver are part of a broader package of interventions provided to each Service User based on individual need
For further information about RRP’s approach to Peer Mentoring contact;
In the SWM area: Michael.Gordon@rrp.gse.gov.uk
In the DLNR area: Benjamin.Humphris@rrp.gse.gov.uk
Both CRCs and the NPS are invited to contribute guest blog posts on innovations in probation practice by emailing me.