A review of our Peer Advisor Programme in prisons has found that it is “providing significant positive impacts and benefits, for prisoners, the prison environment and wider community.”
It was undertaken by JM Consulting between December 2016 and July 2017 jointly commissioned by St Giles Trust and The Bell Foundation who support the Programme working with foreign national prisoners. The review looked at the Programme’s delivery in five key prisons (HMPs Wandsworth, Huntercombe, Ranby, Downview and Coldingley) and carried out interviews with prison staff and prisoners training under the Programme.
St Giles Trust’s prison-based Peer Advisor Programme offers a structured package of training and vocational experience to serving prisoners to a nationally recognised Level 3 or 4 qualification in Advice and Guidance. As part the vocational element to the qualification, the Peer Advisors offer advice and guidance services to other prisoners. It aims to offer the Peer Advisors a pathway to employment whilst benefitting other prisoners.
The findings of the review concluded that the Peer Advisor Programme:
Delivers positive impacts for a prison system under pressure. For prisoners, it gives them a trusted advisor who could listen to them and help them access services. Peer Advisors develop positive attributes that are highly beneficial to the prison system. The Programme supports the prisons and helps promote a healthy prison environment.
Offers a highly professional peer service with sector standard, portable qualifications. The Peer Advisor role combines practical services alongside empathy and mentoring. The training was found to offer an excellent progression route to employment with a high level qualification.
Improves the safety, equality and decency for the most vulnerable. This was found to particularly be the case with The Bell Foundation supported work with foreign national prisoners where English language or literacy needs presented an added barrier which Peer Advisors could help them overcome.
Supports sustainable resettlement and helps to reduce re-offending. Evidence from prison staff and Peer Advisors who had been released indicates the programme helps them obtain and sustain employment and become more prepared for life in the community.
Enhances prison performance and supports culture change. The Peer Advisor Programme was found to contribute towards safety, respect, purposeful activity and resettlement. It also helped promote positive relationships between staff and prisoners.
The prisoners spoke of how Peer Advisors helped them understand the prison system and settle in when they first arrived. One commented: “When I came here I was all over the place… I was in a bad way. The help they (the Peer Advisors) give is immeasurable. They put themselves in our shoes –they have been there so they understand. They are like a light at the end of the tunnel.”
The Peer Advisors particularly valued the opportunity to both gain knowledge and skills which could help them secure employment and develop as a person. One commented: “I used to be quite judgemental but now I’m much more accepting of people’s differences. The training has made me challenge myself and my beliefs.”
A total of 529 prisoners trained or embarked on training as Peer Advisors during 2015 and July 2017, with numbers in each prison ranging from 2 to 53 depending on the size of the prison and how established the Peer Advisor Programme is in it.
The full report can be downloaded here