By Ben Simmons

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson has announced £3.5 million of funding to tackle the vicious cycle of youth re-offending over the next three years.

The fund will target 14 - 17 year olds who have either been remanded or sentenced to custody and support them through the difficult transition on release, motivating them to access education, training or employment.

The £3.5 million is part of a £10 million ESF match funded grant aimed at vulnerable young people, the rest of which will target youngsters excluded from school and help disabled young people secure employment. Organisations are being invited to bid for contracts until the end of March, with projects commencing from September 2012.

The Mayor made the announcement as an independent evaluation of his pioneering pilot resettlement unit at Feltham Young Offenders Institute, revealed that early findings from a small sample of those released from the Heron wing indicated that re-offending rates had been reduced to 41 per cent. This is in comparison to an analysis on all 15-17 year olds released from the juvenile secure estate (which showed that 61 per cent of young people discharged within 9 months re-offended.) The evaluation was carried out by Ipsos MORI.

The Mayor has worked in partnership with the Youth Justice Board, Ministry of Justice, local boroughs, London Criminal Justice Partnership and Rathbone to deliver the Heron wing project which is part of his wider Time for Action scheme aimed at tackling youth crime.

"Tackling re-offending is never going to be a simple task but the pilot prison project I delivered has certainly shown promising results," said Mayor Boris. "I hope the additional £3.5 million I’ll be investing in young offenders will continue to help them turn their backs on crime for good. We all agree that criminals must pay for their crimes, but it’s in all our interests to try and motivate them to focus on gaining employment and education when they are released rather than slipping back into a life time of criminal activity."

Many of the ex- Heron young offenders have so far managed to turn their backs on crime, with three boys in university and many securing work in retail, building and sports related fields.

The report looked at 91 boys over 9 months on the 30 bed Heron unit. A unique feature of the unit was the one to one ‘coaching’ the inmates received from a ‘resettlement broker’ who made tailored programs for the boys inside the prison and then supported them continuously during the difficult period on release, for up to 12 months. This continuity of care can be a key element to success with some offenders who may have little positive support from their own families or peers in the outside world.

A Heron resettlement broker said: "It’s mainly about building the relationship, obviously because often when we work with them in custody, it’s one way of working with them, and it’s different working with them in the community. If we can build that trust (while) in custody, that helps."

The report interviewed parents who had noticed positive changes in their sons since being on the Heron wing. Offenders were assessed according to their motivation to change and complexity of their resettlement needs. Most the offenders were serving sentencing of 2 to 48 months for mostly robbery, violence against a person and burglary.
An ex-Heron, former young offender said: "I feel like they really helped me get a job.. and with motivation as well because when I first came out I really wanted to get a job and then after I was looking I felt that like this isn’t going to work, but my resettlement broker helped me keep up with it."

There was general consensus from everyone interviewed for the report that the programme had been a success in changing the lives of young people involved, and there was support for maintaining and extending the programme. The Mayor, working closely with YJB and London Prisons has taken the next step with securing investment for resettlement of young offenders up until 2015.

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