Focus: Frontline - Fairbridge Prison Project

Indira Das-Gupta,

What it is: A five-day programme to improve the life skills of young people preparing for release from three Scottish prisons.

What it does: Gives ex-offenders the skills to stay away from crime and the confidence to start new lives.

How it's funded: The project is 100 per cent funded by the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.

"Many offenders go straight back to their old ways as soon as they get out because it's all they know," says Tamara Wilder, media relations manager at the Fairbridge Prison Project. Most of the participants in Fairbridge's courses - 67 per cent - are recovering from drug dependency, and 43 per cent are getting over alcohol problems. Sixteen per cent have mental health issues, 20 per cent have experienced homelessness and 28 per cent have been in care.

It is little wonder, then, that a staggering 84 per cent of 14 to 17-year-old offenders in Scotland re-offend within two years of their release. This compares with just 6 per cent of those who attend the Fairbridge course. "Most of them lead massively chaotic lives," says Wilder. "They have a number of different issues to deal with. By the time many young offenders find themselves in prison, they have nothing going on in their lives, perhaps even no family, and are incredibly low."

Dealing with the outside world

The courses are held at two men's prisons, a women's prison and a young offenders' institution and are aimed at 13 to 25-year-olds. They are aimed primarily at providing offenders with the information they will need to get by in the outside world and focus specifically on things they will need to know instantly, such as who to contact about housing benefit.

The project has received extra funding to run an extended eight-day Preparation for Liberation course for young men in Edinburgh prison and Polmont Young Offenders Institution. The project provides a website containing everything former young offenders might need to know when they are released. The course uses problem-solving games to try to show offenders they can achieve something and give them the encouragement and confidence they will need to take their first few steps outside prison. "The games also break down barriers - we find that quite often they don't even talk to each other," says Wilder.

Participants also play 'trust games' - some of the players are blindfolded and then led on a course by other members of the class.

With 86 per cent of participants continuing to engage with Fairbridge on release, it is clear that the charity is getting through. James Reilly, an ex-offender and course participant, says: "I have learned how to communicate with people, how to act and how to treat people with respect." Denise Ferrie, another participant, agrees: "I learnt that it is good to work as part of a team. I have a lot more confidence now."

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