User Voice is founded on the principle that offenders must take responsibility themselves for desistance from crime and one crucial element in this transformative process is the visibility of reformed ex-offenders, modelling to the offender community the possibility of reform and successful change.
At present the offender community may have very little to do with reformed ex -offenders, whose new life often removes them from those currently involved in crime, or on the fringes of crime. Therefore the possibility of change is often an unknown concept, a vague vision which is not grounded in reality for those left behind. The use of ex-offenders in visible roles within criminal justice supports offenders to see and touch the possibility of change and inspires and motivates those who are in the change process.
Our work leads us to recognise that offenders like to relate to those who have ‘walked in their shoes’, those who have the lived experience of criminal justice. We believe that the ex- offender community has an important role to play in resettlement and rehabilitation, supporting others at the beginning on of their personal journey. We believe that it is essential for the offender community to develop its capacity to lead itself out of crime and developing and extending peer support networks is a way of doing this.
Peer mentors must be ex-offenders (those with experience of the criminal justice system). They need to prove they have been free from offending and clean from any substance addiction for an agreed period of time. Each Mentor will be risk assessed. The role will be voluntary with expenses paid.
Peer mentors receive initial intensive training with follow-up specialist training. They will be supervised and have access to Mentor forums to share best practice. They will also be offered a coach for their own personal development. Our peer support programme is registered with the Mentoring and Befriending Foundation and the NOMS Approved Provider Standard (APS). We deliver accredited Level 2 Peer Mentoring training to our peer mentors and are currently developing a progression award Level 3.
There is ever-growing recognition of the role that ex-offenders can play as peer mentors to support current service users reducing their likelihood of re-offending, especially through the gate, from prison on release into the community. However, there have been a few examples of organisations supporting prisoners through the gate using ex-offenders on a significant scale joining up prison and probation.
In areas where we have both a Prison Council and a Service User Council, User Voice is able to link engagement with prisoners from custody, providing peer support into the community on release and providing them with meaningful activity by joining the Service User Council in their local area.