Mentoring : Peer Mentoring

Mentoring individuals with convictions is ‘of the moment’ in terms of governmental interest, given the Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) agenda and recent Meaningful Mentoring policy paper from the Centre for Social Justice, written by Jonathan Aitkin[1]. Mentoring being considered as a positive method of rehabilitation, moving to the fore as a direct consequence of the new TR approach. [2] It seems clear that there will be a drive for rehabilitative services to provide mentoring services as a more innovative support mechanism for promoting desistance and reintegration with communities on release from prison.

At Crossroads Trust we hope that there will not be a prescriptive ‘one size fits all’ mentoring approach within rehabilitative services. As Jonathan Aitkin writes, ‘mentoring is an instinctive judgement…it is a human engagement of trust, encouragement, guidance and hope.’ [3] This flexible, responsive approach, coupled with an authenticity of experience is what will work in engaging individuals in the process of change, and if this is carried out with high levels of supportive supervision, risk assessment and standards, the future looks positive for the notion of mentoring.

Matching the most appropriate mentor for the client is all important. This takes care and skill. At Crossroads Trust we have a wonderful balance of experienced criminal justice professionals, volunteers, mentors and peer mentors. Within the volunteering pool, there are four ex probation professionals, health professionals including an ex mental health nurse, special needs teaching staff, teachers and lecturers, a professional risk assessor, a small business start up coach, IT advisor, diversity and equality
advisor, sports and fitness coach and many other committed and enthusiastic volunteers.

Then there are our mentors and peer mentors. Crossroads has some 64% of mentors with previous convictions, these are
individuals who have a shared understanding of the experience of having criminal convictions, arguably better able to identify with the mentee when dealing with the barriers, discrimination and difficulties of reintegrating into our community carrying the burden of a conviction or convictions. These are our peer mentors, who have all demonstrated a commitment to leading a law abiding life and of being able to navigate the community we live in with a desire to help others along their specific paths. There is evidence that acting as a peer mentor reinforces the commitment to lead a positive lifestyle, reminds the peer mentor of their own success, and that the path towards crime is not one they wish to take again. [4]

We are fortunate to have a good number of both male and female peer mentor volunteers at Crossroads Trust, vital if we are to engage specifically to the needs of mentees. Particularly relevant when offering woman specific support given the complexities of female offending behaviour and the prevalence of experience of domestic abuse. [5]

Peer mentoring works; we are already seeing the benefit of this approach with our trial cohort of clients and look forward to assisting more community members in North Warwickshire with convictions.

[1] Aitkin, J. (2014) Meaningful Mentoring: A Policy paper for the Centre for Social Justice, April 2014.
[2] Ministry of Justice (2013) Transforming Rehabilitation: A Strategy for Reform. London: Ministry of Justice. May 2013:p.47.
[3] as above
[4] Kavanagh, L., and Borrill, J. (2013) ‘Exploring the experiences of ex-offender mentors,’ in Probation Journal Vol 60(4),