Since October 2012, User Voice’s Peer Mentoring project with Essex Probation has been training ex-offenders to use their own experiences to provide support to other service users. The project harnesses the unique and invaluable experience of those who have successfully improved their situation to mentor others. With first-hand experience of how it feels to go through the criminal justice system, mentors can give encouragement and reassurance to those going through the same things they have.
Giving something back and helping other service users in this way is rewarding both emotionally and practically. Mentors, who are identified through a careful selection process, are able to add to their list of achievements whilst improving their own employment opportunities. Mentors have informed of the benefits they have reaped by taking part in the programme. This feedback has included; “taking part has helped me to stay on the right path”, “this training has helped me to come to terms with my own past and move on”, “by doing this training I can get a qualification and I have never had one before”, “the programme has helped to improve my self-esteem”, “by coming to the mentoring training I feel less socially isolated and actually feel that I belong”.
After completing the training the mentors receive a recognised qualification, an OCN Level 2 Award in Peer Mentoring. In addition, Essex Probation have committed to providing further support to mentors in the form of employment for successful candidates as Case Supporters. Four mentors have recently had successful interviews for Case Supporter positions, demonstrating the impact that the project is having.
This innovative Peer Mentoring programme aims to contribute towards the reduction of re-offending by offering a service that recognises the changes ex-service users of the criminal justice system make to their lives. Furthermore this programme is enabling such people to contribute towards the delivery of criminal justice services to aid their desistence from crime.