Offender Mentoring Schemes in the UK

Please note –

A. The term “scheme” refers to a program strategy in the United kingdom. Just think, “program” as you read this article.

B. This article title refers to the UK, but it specifically deals with Offender Mentoring Programs in the South West United Kingdom.

The article is by Paul Crossey

The following are summary comments excerpted from a report with the same title, which examines mentoring program approaches conducted by regional offices of the Ministry of Justice in the United Kingdom. Specifically, the focus is on mentoring of offenders in their criminal justice system. We are pleased to provide this resource to IMA members from this specific setting.

FOR ALL IMA MEMBERS – Due to the very specific nature of the focus in the report we have placed it in a table with an “Editors’ Comments” column on the right side. We encourage readers from ALL settings to read both the report and the Editors’ Comments to gain the maximum benefit from the content and the experience of the report’s author. (The Editors)

The full article can be found at any of the following places:

Offender Mentoring Schemes

in the South West United Kingdom

By Paul Crossey

The Editors’ Comments

to suggest more general language for more universal applications, or to clarify.

This study of offender mentoring schemes aimed to fully map the schemes available within the South West region of the United Kingdom.  It also aimed to provide a brief summary of the available literature on the effective application of mentoring, the national NOMS policy, and actions that relate to mentoring to provide a framework in which to map these schemes. Consultation with local, regional and national stakeholders has taken place involving an earlier draft of this report.The recommendations of this report fall into three groups:

  • Evaluation
  • Sharing Best Practice
  • Strategic Planning.

The recommendations emphasize the importance for all stakeholders to link with national work streams that are further developing and supporting mentoring.

What follows is a summary of this report.

In this report’s terminology, the mentor is the “volunteer” and the offender is the “mentee”.NOMS is the United Kingdom’s National Offender Management System. The author works within and did the study within this NOMS system.The “Evaluation” is offered below in the section titled “. . . and What Doesn’t (work)?”The “Best Practices” are especially of value to all readers and are presented below in the section titled, “Mentoring: What Works?”

“Strategic planning” is not addressed in this

What is mentoring? Mentoring as “a relationship between the volunteer (mentor) and the (mentee) based on meeting agreed objectives set at the outset. By contrast, a social relationship, if achieved, is incidental”.Many schemes are branded as mentoring but essentially consist of befriending and escorting. Befriending is “a relationship between two or more individuals which is initiated, supported and monitored by an agency that has defined one or more parties as likely to benefit.
Ideally the mentoring relationship is  non- judgmental, mutual and purposeful and there is a commitment over time”.
This is an interesting definition. It’s helpful to clarify the distinction between mentoring and befriending.
However, the Editors assert that effective mentoring also includes development of a relationship of trust, within which the goals are growth-oriented.
Research base for effectiveness of mentoring There have been very few studies of the effectiveness of mentoring schemes on reducing re-offending, particularly within England and Wales. This
in part can be attributed to the contemporary nature of these schemes with the first versions appearing in the mid 1990s. Published reports often incorporate a large number of US schemes and are generally positive regarding the impact of mentoring.Overall, research suggests mentoring is a promising intervention on a number of levels, particularly when delivered at a high standard. However, further large-scale, well controlled trials in the UK, need to take place to fully evaluate mentoring effectiveness in reducing re-offending.
As of the publication of this report in 2008, it would be at least 13 years since the “mid 1990s”. The Editors believe that program evaluation should begin prior to implementing a new program to learn from previous experiences, and continue each year after implementation.
How else can a base line of data be established to show conditions before the program started?How else can the impact of the mentoring program on the target be demonstrated?

Regardless of the many reasons why programs do not evaluate themselves, YOU should evaluate YOUR program, or you risk having an inadequate defense when funders and other decision makers start to ask questions.

Mentoring: What Works?
1. “Through the gate” mentoring schemes that
make proactive referrals to the program as early as possible (prison induction).2. Mentoring that develops a relationship in prison and continues it after the offender is released

3. Schemes that target certain pathways to assist the overall reducing re-offending agenda (e.g. housing and employment)

4. Continuity of contact with mentors

5. Evaluation of scheme outcomes (for various reasons – to discover and then let mentors know what works, to continuously improve the scheme, for funding applications, etc.)

6. Mentoring meetings at least once a week

7. Each meeting should last five hours or more

8. A programme that lasts for 10 months or more.

9. Even interrupted programmes show positive gains  e.g. numeracy, literacy improvements

10. Matching mentors with mentees by personal characteristics produces the most gains, especially with female mentees. BME mentors help BME clients best with family relationships, white mentors seem better at improving all mentees’ literacy.

11. Engaging the right mentee (younger, shorter offending history and female)

12. Being part of a range of interventions (including motivational work and access to interventions)

13. Creating a positive relationship among the partner agencies (prison/probation) which work with the person over time

14. Having a list of events and activities that mentors/ mentees can attend together.

General Best Practices
1. This “induction” approach is much more than an initial orientation. It continues through the year.2. Continue the mentoring beyond the initial support period so that mentees receive follow up support for implementation of new behaviors.

3. We interpret this statement to mean that mentoring is most successful when it uses research-based, proven processes for planning and providing assistance and guidance.

4. & 6. It seems that these two significantly overlap:
– Continuity implies consistency in the mentee’s experience in working with the mentor, and #6 suggests that continuity is achieved when meetings of mentoring pairs occur at least once a week. We agree this rule of thumb is fine, but offer that mentoring which targets the developmental needs of the mentee will sometimes need to be more or less frequent than that. The rule of thumb should guide when the needs of the mentee are not yet clear.

5. Goal-oriented mentoring and mentor programs will need feed back as to the extent to which desired results are achieved. Given that, programs and practices can be adjusted to increase results.

7. It is unclear to the Editors why a five hour minimum is critical. Of course, significant work and growth take time and the availability of large amounts of time is very helpful to that end. Still, we suggest that rule of thumb should be varied when it is clear that current goals are not served by spending more time together at any point. The time must be felt to be productive, both by the mentor and the mentee.

8. This makes sense to us, especially in growth-oriented mentoring.

9. This suggests that providing less than desired amounts and length of mentoring is seen as productive. We believe that to be true as well. Yet, in such cases what could be achieved will be lessened.

10A. This approach of matching by common characteristics certainly makes it easier for the mentor to serve as a role model for the mentee. However, it has been shown to also reduce both mentor and mentee growth, since they are less likely to think differently and challenge each others’ assumptions.

10B. The author’s data may show that “white mentors are better at improving mentee literacy”, but we seriously challenge this as a “best practice”. In fact it may be as simple as the literacy level of the mentor that makes the difference and not the race of the mentor at all.

11. This implies that the sooner mentoring can be provided to those who need it, the more effective it will be. Although we generally agree, a larger concept of mentee readiness to grow and a willingness to work with a mentor should take precedence.

12. Yes. mentoring is not the answer to every question. It should always be linked to and aligned with other improvement initiatives.

13. Yes. This “agency” cooperation increases the chances that the services to mentees will be seamless and more effective.

14. We would assume that these activities would all relate to the goals of the mentee.

…..and what doesn’t work?
1. Schemes that only function in prisons versus those that follow the offender across settings2. Inconsistent contact or frequent changes of mentors

3. Short term (less than 6 months can have a negative effect)

4. Under resourced – cannot engage in activities
during contact, e.g. buying a coffee

5. Poorly trained mentors – there appears to be
no optimal level but some training is required

6. Lack of professional staff providing supervision of the relationship

1. Mentoring that is only provided in the context of the initial contact is less effective than mentoring which works with persons as they move through various stages of growth, or levels of service provision.
2. Inconsistent, or infrequent (less than once per week) mentoring tends not to build trusting relationships and, so, tends to be ineffective in producing mentee growth.3. Growth usually takes extended time. This is especially true where mentees have reasons not to trust others. Building a trusting mentoring relationship must happen over time.

4. Mentors need both formal and informal settings in which to mentor. Therefore, programs should provide a budget to support mentors utilizing of informal local settings.

5. Facilitating the growth of another person is complex work. Mentors, especially those who volunteer, deserve a training through which they can learn from experienced mentors and develop best practices. The Editors state that the amount of mentor training depends on comparison of several items:

  • The knowledge and skills mentors must have to succeed.
  • An (self?) assessment of each mentor’s actual skills versus the desired skills.
  • The training should address the gap in skills.

6. There may be few circumstances outside the criminal justice system in which the mentee may need supervision, and the volunteer mentor cannot be assumed to be able to provide such supervision.

ANNEX D: Offender Mentoring Needs Analysis A needs analysis was developed based on data from OASys records of the period June 2006-May 2007, and on the literature analyzed for this report. That needs assessment was conducted as part of this research.
The resulting data are presented in “Annex D” in the original report available at one of the links at the top of this page. That assessment is titled “ Table 1: Drugs and Alcohol Needs by Probation Area”.
We do not know what the OASys is.
The needs assessment data are not presented here, but you can see that its focus was on drug and alcohol abuse. How this connects to the work of mentors is not explained in this summary, except by a statement in the following “Commentary”.
Commentary The literature examined and data collected in this report suggest that drug and alcohol abuse needs are difficult to address through mentoring. Mentoring schemes may therefore impact most effectively on
the “reducing re-offending agenda” by increasing provision in the geographical areas with the lowest drug and alcohol abuse needs.
Why “drug and alcohol abuse needs are difficult to address through mentoring” is not explained. We would find that information significant and interesting. The Editors wonder if it is because of inadequacies in mentor experience or training, or something about the design of the mentoring program itself.
When YOU encounter an area in which mentoring is found to be less effective, don’t be too quick to leave that area and focus on your mentor and program strengths. It may be possible to determine why mentoring is ineffective in that area and to do something which increases mentors’ effectiveness.

Our thanks to the author for sharing his study and findings with us.

The original report was researched and written by Paul Crossey of the National Offender Management Service South West, Ministry of Justice, United Kingdom. He may be reached at (Tel): 07917 041 507, or through e-mail at