My third week into my Churchill Fellowship trip in Scotland was so interesting and once again, the agencies I had arranged to meet with so helpful and informative and their work so valuable for my project.
The first day took me out to HMP Low Moss in Bishopbriggs, Glasgow, a male prison opened in 2012 with a capacity of 784. I met with Gillian Todd, the Turning Point Partnership Manager and her team. What is so exciting is this service based within the prison is a public/social partnership and provides a complete holistic through care service for prisoners and their families. The team works very closely with the prison staff and other visiting agencies. It is a voluntary service but all prisoners who arrive are offered the service through a group information session. Those who wish to be assisted, and will be released around Glasgow, will continue to receive post release support starting on the day of release at the Gate. The team will take them to appointments, visit them, and take calls from the client and their family if needed for as long as required. The team does not have peers mentors, but engages with the prison’s peers and other services who provide mentoring. What was so exciting about this service is that it is breaking down the prison/community barrier.
The next day I met with Yvonne and Adele at Sacro’s national office in Edinburgh and learnt a lot about the history of their service and how the Shine Women’s Mentoring program came into practice following reports into women in prison. Adele provided a wealth of information about the service based within the female prisons and community; and the recruitment, training and support of prison champions and mentors . The mentoring does not involve the use of peers but is very established and proving to be successful in helping many women after release.
I then met with Professor Bill Whyte, at Edinburgh University and with another of his colleagues Dr. Steve Kirkwood and PhD Student Eve Mullins. We had a very robust interesting discussion on the Scottish criminal justice system and peer mentoring. Bill conducted research into the Wise Group’s first Routes Out of Prison mentoring service.
Later in the day I was thrilled to meet Pete White, Chief Executive of Positive Prison ? Positive Futures who came from Glasgow to meet me in Edinburgh. Pete is an ex-offender with an amazing story who is now very much involved with having input into policy and contribution to research. Some of the work has involved replacing the use of the term ‘ex-offender’ to ‘people with convictions’ in all government papers and incorporating ‘returning citizens perspectives’. Pete’s organisation is based in the Robertson Trust building in Glasgow. Pete is an inspiration.
The next day, back in Glasgow, I met with Tom Jackson, Chief Officer with the Glasgow Community Justice Authority. Tom provided me with a comprehensive overview of the Scottish criminal justice system, structure and services; current changes and challenges and also innovative programs such as the PSP’s (Public Social Partnerships), the value of mentoring and the recognition of incorporating input from former service users in policy development and reform.
I then met with the Wise Group’s New Routes team, formerly New Routes Out of Prison. I met with Laurie Russell the Director and also Charlie, Alex and Joe, members of the team who are mentors and all ex-offenders. These guys were amazing and a delight. Filled with so much valuable insight, experience, anecdotes and case studies, and quite a few laughs. New Routes is well established and provides mentoring services to nearly all Scottish male prisons, with the mentors with previous convictions able to commence the mentoring relationship with the prisoner well prior to release and continuing well into their time in the community. New Routes has over five years of learnings. New Routes recruits for other positions in the agency from within the mentoring service, recruiting for attitude and knowing the values and ethos of the agency. Many of the quotes the guys gave me in relation to mentoring prisoners were gold, including this one; ‘I don’t look for an outcome and then I find one’.
My final day in Scotland was in Glasgow meeting with Christine Scullion, Head of Development with the Robertson Trust. The Robertson Trust aims to improve life in Scotland for those who need it most through providing funding to charitable organisations. It was a thoroughly delightful, informative and very interesting discussion learning about the various programs and agencies they have funded related to my Churchill Fellowship project – very exciting.
So now onto two weeks across the continent of Ireland, starting the first week in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Stay tuned.