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Mentoring ex-offenders

Janey Reynolds

A prison wall

Janey Reynolds, mentor co-ordinator at Nacro, tells Edge how their mentoring system helps people caught in the destructive cycle of crime and their families

Established in 1966, Nacro is the largest charity in England and Wales dedicated to reducing crime.

Over 2,000 staff and volunteers work in prisons, schools and hard to reach communities to help put a stop to the destructive impact of crime on individuals and communities.

They offer support and guidance to the perpetrators of crime and their families, re-establishing stability after the chaos caused by being involved with crime. Over 83,000 people each year are helped by Nacro’s services.

What they do

Nacro’s mentors are involved in areas such as resettlement and support, explains Janey Reynolds, mentor co-ordinator for Nottingham.

“That means that when people are released from prison, a mentor may meet them, support them with housing aid visits, filling in forms and even registering with a GP practice.”

Mentoring helps ex-offenders gain life skills that can be useful when applying to jobs or colleges later on.

“Our mentors help their mentees through a 10-week training session. This involves building up portfolios, carrying out mock assignments, and talking about the way they can demonstrate their behaviour to potential employers and colleges. It really gives them an idea of what people are looking for.”

Mentors build up a bond with people. This can be vital for the service users – it’s important for them to know that there’s someone they can access at a set time every week and pick up where they left off
Mentors are also involved with classroom support. This means working with young people and adults, resettling them into learning environments. A mentor may go into the school environment or classroom with them for a few days, weeks or months.

“Getting young people back into school if they’ve been excluded is vital,” says Reynolds.

While there isn’t a typical background to Nacro mentors (“We work with so many diverse people – we need our mentors to be diverse too”), the role does require some key skills.

“You have to be a good listener and you’ve got to be interested in people,” says Reynolds. “You need to have a commitment to what we’re trying to achieve and you must believe in Nacro’s ethos and values. Our mentors might come into contact with some colourful characters, so you have to be accepting of what makes people different and you can’t hold any prejudices yourself.”

Reynolds began volunteering at Nacro when she was 17, assisting at the young people and family centre with excluded young men. Now, 17 years later, she has also gained a PGCE teaching qualification (“to gain more respect for the alternative education we deliver”) and studied social science.

“I love the work that we do,” she says. “It’s a real privilege to work with these amazing characters. To see the commitment they show is just immense.”

Why mentor ex-offenders?

“Mentors build up a bond with people,” says Reynolds. “This can be vital for the service users – it’s important for them to know that there’s someone they can access at a set time every week and pick up where they left off.”

As well as the benefit to mentees, mentors get a real sense of satisfaction from knowing they’ve made a difference, says Reynolds. She adds that many people who have been through Nacro’s services have gone on to become mentors themselves.

“They bring skills that some professionals might lack. They can identify with people. Our young people love that they’re there because they care about it.”


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