Mentor schemes to support convicts coming out of prison have been awarded £3.4 million by the Scottish Government.
The cash, which will be split between four programmes, will fund mentors to provide one-to-one support and guidance, offering help to overcome the challenges many inmates face on release.
The schemes will also include support for those dealing with problems such as ill-heath, debt or substance abuse, and assist with longer-term aims such as finding a job or rebuilding family relationships.
Announcing the funding, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “Scotland’s firm focus on prevention and rehabilitation to avoid people being drawn into cycles of reoffending has contributed to a 19-year low in reconviction rates – helping to keep crime down and communities safe.
“We know that practical and personal problems faced by people leaving prison make it harder to reintegrate and can lead to reoffending.
“However, when I speak to people who have benefited from mentoring of this kind they are very clear that many of these issues are preventable.”
He added: “Being imprisoned can often exacerbate issues which underlie offending behaviour – so mentoring support starts while people are still in custody and continues when they return to their community and family.
“Whether it is finding somewhere permanent to stay or dealing with money worries, mentors help to ensure that problems are recognised and dealt with so they don’t lead to bigger issues.”
The organisations to benefit from the cash are New Routes Public Service Partnership (PSP), Shine PSP – a national service for women leaving prison – Moving On PSP for young male offenders leaving HMP Polmont and Low Moss PSP.
Steven Ferguson received mentoring support through New Routes – a national service offering support to 18 to 25-year-old-men who have served custodial sentences of up to four years – and the Wise Group after leaving prison.
He is now a full-time youth development worker, mentoring other young people.
Mr Ferguson said: “When I started working with my mentor I was in quite a dark place where I didn’t really know where I was going in life.
“I felt trapped in a cycle of going into prison, coming out of prison, using drugs.
“I was caught up in crime and violence to the point where it felt like there wasn’t anything else I could do.
“Working with the Wise Group opened my mind up to different opportunities and I could see there were people who would take the time to help me if I was willing to put in the effort too.”
Sean Duffy, chief executive of the Wise Group, which leads the partnership of agencies delivering the New Routes programme, said: “The Wise Group’s dedicated mentors, half of whom have convictions themselves, provide vital wraparound support and guidance to customers for up to six months before release –being there for them on the day they leave prison – and for a further six months in the community.
“This valuable support focuses on the needs of each customer, often helping them to find a safe place to sleep, having their immediate health needs met or arranging financial support.
“Working in partnership to deliver New Routes nationally, this funding from the Scottish Government will allow our proven mentoring approach to positively impact more lives and further reduce reoffending.
“We will also be able to explore new ways to support the justice system in providing a viable alternative to custody, such as embedding mentoring in community sentencing options.”