One in Five in Youth Jails are Muslim – So Get Mentoring!
The Chief Inspector of Prisons reveals that a shocking 21% of prisoners in youth jails are Muslim, an increase of 8% in only three years. This is incredibly saddening. But this is not news. Back in 2008 when HRH The Prince of Wales asked Mosaic to look at the issue of the growing numbers of Muslims in the prison population, Muslim inmates accounted for a very worrying 9% of the overall prison population. When we launched our young offender mentoring programme in November 2009 that figure had already risen to 12%. Today’s announcement only confirms a dangerous upwards trend and confirms the need for real and urgent concerted action. Thankfully, the Government has already identified a significant part of the answer to this problem in the Justice Secretary’s recent announcement that he wanted all ex-offenders to benefit from a mentor.
The economic cost of this problem to society is staggering; official estimates suggest it could cost the state – that is, the taxpayer – as much as £70,000 each time an individual re-offends. The cost of our mentoring programme is considerably smaller; our average cost for one year’s support is around £2000. The Chief Inspector’s report is most disturbing in its account of the experience of these young men and women in youth prisons. These individuals feel unsafe and treated significantly worse than non-Muslims: “They reported that they were more likely to have been restrained, more likely to be victimised by staff and found it more difficult to stay in touch with friends and families.” This is profoundly worrying. If we do not provide meaningful support to these youngsters, what possible chance do we have in persuading them that they are valued and valuable members of society?
When I first looked at how Mosaic could respond to this issue, working with others in the field, including the wonderful Muslim Youth Helpline (MYH), it became very clear that there was a huge role for volunteer mentors. For those individuals who had been in prison before, the research showed very clearly that they felt unsupported by their communities when they left prison. In the evidence produced by MYH, of re-offenders, 63% did not find the support they needed upon leaving prison the first time. Of this same group, 82% felt quite strongly that faith-sensitive, community support upon exiting prison would have prevented them from re-offending. When asked if a mentor – someone outside of their normal network to whom they could turn for support and advice – would have helped them avoid re-offending, the response was overwhelmingly positive.
At the end of 2009, we therefore launched the Mosaic Young Offenders mentoring programme. Mosaic provides focussed, one-to-one mentoring support for young Muslims aged 18-35 approaching the end of their custodial sentence and about to make the difficult transition from prison back to their communities. As well as encouraging the development of a constructive attitude, one-to-one mentoring sessions provide wide-ranging practical assistance, including support with housing, training and employment via Mosaic’s extensive and well established network of partners.
Thanks to support from the Wates Foundation, the programme is going from strength to strength. In our initial evaluation, re-offending amongst individuals we mentored was around 20% compared to a national average of 65%. But we are still only able to scratch the surface. Recruiting and training suitable individuals as mentors is resource intensive but our biggest problem is working with a prison system that is only just beginning to see the impact that mentors can have. We are delighted that Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, has recognised the importance of mentoring in breaking the cycle of re-offending. Beyond financial support however to deliver this revolution is the need to change the ethos within the prison system. The system is, frankly, designed more with the interests of the individuals operating it than the needs of the inmates who need effective support to ensure they do not re-offend. Moving to a culture where success is defined by how many individuals are rehabilitated after prison is hugely important. And a big part of this involves working with charities such as Mosaic to see how systems can be changed to make it easier to support prisoners, rather than telling charities they have to work around the system.
Mosaic is determined that our positive intervention in these young people’s lives creates the solid foundation for them to rebuild in a positive and long term way. We look forward to working with the Government, private sector partners and others to build our programme to make a positive contribution to addressing this disturbing problem.