This year marks ten years since our Moving On project opened. It was launched in a bid to stop the revolving door of young men leaving prison, reoffending and quickly finding themselves back behind bars.
Originally operating in Renfrewshire, it has expanded to East Ayrshire, Inverclyde and the Highlands. Over the last decade, it has supported thousands of young men to turn their lives around.
The most striking aspect is that the project is voluntary. They want to come to Moving On, often hearing from friends who have benefited from it. They decided they wanted to meet our staff and mentors when they visited HMYOI Polmont. They also choose to attend sessions at our project when they had been liberated. The young men are there because they want to change their lives.
Upon release, our staff will collect the young person from the prison gates. From there, our skilled team provides a range of support, including helping them to deal with addiction issues, find somewhere to live, and secure work.
Research carried out between 2013 and 2016 studied 263 young men we supported across the four local authority areas. After completion of the programme, just 13 per cent returned to prison after a new conviction, compared to the national average of 47 per cent. Furthermore, 53 per cent of those engaged with the project obtained employment, training or re-engaged with education.
As one young person said about the programme: “This place gives me somewhere to go and I now have new friends through this that aren’t getting involved in anything. I still talk to my old pals and that, but I spend a lot less time with them.”
The role of our peer mentors cannot be understated. They are former service users who have been where these young men have been before. But they have turned their lives around and are able to say to them: ‘I’ve been where you are, but I’ve been able to change my ways. You can too.’
That link is crucial to the work of the project. Treating the young men as adults, not children, is important but it’s vital for them to have a positive role model – in many cases that was something which had been missing.
This also builds trust with the young men, so they can reveal who they are and understand the support they need and the future they want.
In 2014, we launched Yes Chef!, which sees six boys from Moving On spend three months learning in kitchens in Glasgow before cooking a meal for hundreds of guests at the fundraising finale of the programme.
Since then, 22 young men have come through the programme with every one securing a work placement – 21 then entered employment, training or education; 16 maintained employment, training or education – seven within kitchens, while 18 (82 per cent) did not return to custody.
I am very proud of the work of our Moving On project, not only in supporting young men liberated from prison but also in changing attitudes towards ex-offenders.
A mistake or a wrong turn shouldn’t see a young person thrown on the scrapheap. Moving On plays a significant part in helping them understand the impact of their actions and to play a more positive role in their local communities. That’s surely something we can all get behind.
Paul Carberry is Action for Children’s director for Scotland.