Lucy spent ten years addicted to heroin. During this time she was also convicted of theft and lost her son to care. Her life had hit rock bottom.
“I was a heroin addict for about ten years and in and out of the criminal justice system. My son went to stay with my mum because I wasn’t looking after myself, and they thought I wasn’t looking after him.”
Today, speaking from the grounds of Perth College Lucy has been clean for over 2 years; at 37 she has returned to education for the first time since she left school at 15.“I’ve got a portfolio of certificates and I am aiming for a degree with a dissertation in addiction and recovery,” Lucy says. She has completed peer mentor training with Venture Trust and its partner Move On to help other women caught up in the criminal justice system.
One of Lucy’s proudest achievements was being recognised with the presentation of a local champion award through the criminal justice system. The system that could have locked her away instead provided her with the opportunity to change her life.
“My life has totally changed. I’m in a brilliant place with my son. I’ve got a fighting chance to get him home. I have my grandchildren on weekends. These are things that would never have happened before” she says.
“I get up every day and it’s not drugs I think about. I get up and I want to go to college, I want to take the dog for a walk, I want to eat well, sleep well and be healthy.”
Reflecting on her journey with Venture Trust’s Next Steps programme which is funded by the Big Lottery Fund, Lucy explains it was the three-phases of the programme all working together that allowed her to “get her life back”.
Like all of Venture Trust’s programmes, during phase 1 there is support in the participants’ communities which usually lasts for 3-6 months. An outreach worker, in partnership with other agencies, will help the participant to stabilise their lifestyle, so that they’re able to embark on (and benefit from) the wilderness phase. The participant will be introduced to other local people in similar circumstances, helping them to build a positive network of peers and supporters. Finally, the participant will receive one-to-one support to identify the choices, actions or behaviours they need to change in order to develop a more sustainable lifestyle.
Phase 2, the wilderness journey or residential, is at the heart of Venture Trust’s programmes. This setting – far removed from a participant’s everyday environment, and often chaotic life – gives people the chance to tackle physical, emotional and social challenges. These challenges are carefully designed to encourage learning and development, to help participants to increase their aspirations, confidence and motivation, and to develop a range of skills for life, learning and work.
“We were not far from Pitlochry, but it could have been a million miles away,” Lucy says. “There were no phones and we took on challenges in the outdoors. But all of these challenges and activities were giving us tools for coping when we returned to our everyday life. Dealing with emotions and anxieties and putting into place an action plan for being back in the community.”
Back in their community during phase 3, each person has access to one-to-one support from a Venture Trust outreach worker. They are supported to achieve their aims, to utilise the skills they have acquired to work towards opportunities such as employment, education, training and volunteering.
“Venture Trust believed in me. They gave me the support and the drive and it’s changed my life,” Lucy says.
Venture Trust has two criminal justice programmes that are integral to the Scottish justice landscape. Living Wild and Next Steps. The focus is on supporting individuals to make positive changes through personal development, experiential learning and acquiring life skills. Participants are helped to raise their aspirations, confidence, understand cause and effect, and responsibility, and give them space for change. In a recent study*, evidence suggests that 75% of women who have completed the Next Steps programme are less likely to reoffend, and 83% are more employable, with a significant number already in employment. These programmes really work.
It is widely understood that prison and particularly short term sentences is not the answer to reducing offending/reoffending. It does little to address the symptoms of those offending, or to encourage reform, and many of the negative behaviours that resulted in a prison sentence, are exacerbated inside prison. Those that are sentenced to a custodial term of 6 months or less are twice as likely to reoffend than those serving a Community Payback Order (CPO).**
If community based services, and programmes are to be the alternative to custodial sentencing of 12 months or less, then these services must be appropriately developed and resourced, and evaluated to ensure efficacy. There must also be greater understanding of what is available and trust that the alternative works, amongst those giving the sentence.
CPOs are a valuable alternative to short term custodial sentencing; they benefit the wellbeing of the individual, and the wider community, the tax payer, and encourage a safer environment. Authorities must work closely with organisations like Venture Trust in order to get the best results.
The opportunity now exists to start getting this right; to start making justice work. It is time to invest in smart justice.
For more information about Venture Trust, please visit their website: http://www.venturetrust.org.uk/
*Dr Shelia Inglis, SMCI Associates
**Community Justice Authorities consultation