Laura Elson of VAL's Prisoner and Ex Offenders project explains how VAL can help young people with a criminal record gain the skills and experience they need.
Last year, VAL set up a unique volunteer centre service for people who have had contact with the criminal justice system, to breakdown barriers and discrimination, and raise awareness amongst organisations who use volunteers. So far 90 men and women have accessed our support, told us their story and many have moved on into volunteering roles in one of our fifty committed host organisations. We have supported two serving prisoners to volunteer full time outside of HMP Leeds, one at VAL, one at RSPCA Leeds and Wakefield Branch, and supported 12 prisoners to deliver access to volunteering support inside HMP Leeds.
So far the reoffending rate of ex offenders supported into volunteering is 0%, compared to the local rate of 78%. This year we will be developing our service in new prisons across Yorkshire, after our recognition by the Cabinet Office, and new funding sources.
This all sounds great, but the adults we work with often have qualifications, life experience, skills and stronger social networks to lean on as they give their time to charities and develop existing abilities. Many people tell us that if volunteering had been easier to get into as a teenager their story might have been very different. We want to help. Funding from the Social Investment Business has allowed us to begin a pilot project, testing our unique model with this new group, and adapting our services to suit young people from those at risk of offending, to those serving sentences at HMYOI Wetherby. The young people we’ve worked with to design this project felt that they were in a desperate position, they had goals and plans for the future, but their age, convictions and lack of skills were holding them back. Frustrated and powerless, for many young people crime is the only option left. Youth Workers across West Yorkshire have told us volunteering opens up so many doors for young people.
One of our young volunteers has overcome enormous challenges in her life, and her dream of being a Youth Worker was out of reach when no one would take her as a volunteer because of her convictions. No experience meant no place on a training course, and no chance of the career she dreamt of. After several support sessions with our volunteer advisers and attending the free two day Intro to Volunteering course, she was placed at Getaway Girls, in a role she absolutely loves. This has enabled her to get a place on a Youth Work course, and for the first time she is exactly where she wants to be. We want to help more young people, through providing support and training for organisations and volunteer managers, creating new toolkits and working closely with Youth Offending Service and Leeds Metropolitan University.
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