Much is currently being written in response to Grayling’s claim that every prisoner serving a sentence of 12 months or less should have a reformed offender to mentor them through their transition back to the community.
Whilst in principle I agree with the sentiment we also have to be realistic about what is and isn’t achievable. Having run a peer mentoring service for two and a half years I am more aware than most that there are limits on the number of reformed offenders who want to help those currently involved in the CJS. Furthermore not all of those who wish to help out in this way will prove themselves to have the right attitude, skills, commitment and abilities. However, I also know how effective those that have the right attitude and ability can be. I have witnessed first-hand the impact they can have, when this intervention works well it is nothing short of inspirational.
Peer mentoring isn’t as easy as throwing an ex-offender in a room with a current offender and sitting back waiting for the magic to happen. Without good recruitment, training and supervision procedures in place we may just be setting the peer mentors up to fail. Navigating and supporting an individual through the agencies which deal with substance abuse, housing and benefits is fraught with difficulties. The job is as demanding as it is rewarding and it’s certainly not a role we can throw volunteers in to and expect success after success. For me quality is much more important than quantity. An effective mentoring intervention requires time and effort; it requires nurturing from those who have experienced the very same pitfalls. In a role where frustration and disappointment are as inevitable as occasional mistakes and disagreements with colleagues, the role of supervision is crucial.
Volunteers are an integral part of CLI’s service delivery and we value the dedication and enthusiasm they bring to the role. The role of the volunteer within CLI is both challenging and rewarding and we like to see people get something back for the work they put in.