Prisoners across England and Wales are now benefitting from a peer-led training and employment project led by charity St Giles.
The Peer Employment Pathway project is providing prisoners with training, an accredited qualification and employment and volunteering opportunities on release through St Giles, its partners and other employers.
Launched earlier this year, the project is now being provided in 6 prisons across London, the East of England, the Midlands, Yorkshire and Wales. To date, 22 prisoners have completed the City and Guilds accredited Learning to Advise Level 2 qualification, 3 have completed the Level 3 Advice and Guidance qualification, 21 are in supported vocational work placements in the prison and 2 have already gained paid employment in the community thanks to the project.
The project is anchored in St Giles’s tried and tested Peer Advisor Programme, first established in HMP Wandsworth twenty years ago to train serving prisoners as Peer Advisors providing services and support to other prisoners. Thousands of people have trained through the Programme since 2002. It now forms the backbone of St Giles’s custodial and community-based services across the UK and has been key in embedding lived experience in service delivery, both at St Giles and with other organisations.
It has been shown to deliver cost benefits to the taxpayer (see editors notes) through the benefits of employment and addressing unmet needs. It boosts employment opportunities for prison leavers – an important factor in reducing re-offending – and reduces pressure on frontline prison staff through the advice and guidance services provided by the Peer Advisors, in particular reducing homelessness through ensuring prisoners have somewhere to live on release.
The Peer Advisors become inspirational role models for other people in the criminal justice system, inspiring positive change and encouraging others to follow in their footsteps.
The project has been endorsed by Minister for Prisons and Probation Damian Hinds who said:
“Getting a job on release is a tried-and-tested way for prisoners to stop the cycle of reoffending in its tracks, and St Giles is handing them the tools they need to make this a reality.
“Initiatives like this are vital in keeping our streets safe by ensuring prisoners have the skills they need to turn over a new leaf.”
Maria McNicholl, Director of Training and Development at St Giles, first developed the Peer Advisor Programme in HMP Wandsworth. She said:
“This important project is part of our vision to ensure that everyone in society has the chance of achieving a positive future, no matter what their background. Serving prisoners are amongst some of the most disadvantaged people in society and empowering them with an opportunity to boost their skills and confidence delivers benefits for us all through reduced re-offending.
“The Peer Employment Pathway project will provide them with a life-changing opportunity to harness their experience and use it to benefit themselves and others.”
‘N’ is one of the people who trained through the Peer Employment Project. He says this of his experience:
“Being on this course (the Peer Employment Project) was a journey of many turns and revelations. I arrived lost without cause and left found, sat around a table overwhelmed and inundated with acceptance and love, and knowing and understanding my purpose in life… St Giles have brought a path and through their collective efforts and innovation the future has never shone so bright as it is now.”
Alumni of St Giles’s prison-based Peer Advisor Programme include youth violence expert Junior Smart, who established St Giles’s SOS Project tacking serious youth violence which has since gone on to become a nationally recognised model of good practice, and Janice Nix who now works for the Probation Service, is an author and St Giles Board Member.
Notes to editors:
- St Giles is an award-winning charity using expertise and real-life past experience to empower people who are not getting the help they need – people held back by poverty, exploited, abused, dealing with mental health problems, caught up in crime or a combination of these issues. Many of the charity’s employees have been in the same circumstances and use their experiences to inspire and support those living through it right now.
- In 2018, an evaluation into a peer-delivered project supporting prison leavers from HMP Leeds found it delivered £8.54 in societal savings for every £1 invested in the service. A 2009 evaluation of St Giles’s Through the Gates project, which used Peer Advisors to support prison leavers, found that it delivered cost savings of £10 to the taxpayer for every £1 invested in the service.
- The Peer Advisor Programme was first established by St Giles in HMP Wandsworth in 2002 to meet the high level of need for support in prisons, using serving prisoners to offer advice and guidance services whilst training them in an accredited qualification. It extended to other prisons across England and Wales and developed into a community-based service supporting people experiencing a wide-range of disadvantages beyond the sphere of criminal justice.
- The legacy of the prison-based Peer Advisor Programme extends throughout St Giles services and has been instrumental in its reputation for putting lived experience at the core of its work.