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Routes out of Prison (RooP)

Routes out of Prison (RooP) is a life coaching project that works with prisoners due for release from a short term sentence to support them as they re-join society. 

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What are the aims and objectives?

The project recruits ex-offenders as life coaches to support repeat offenders with multiple disadvantages who are currently serving prison sentences. The aim is to assist with acquiring life, relationship and employability skills that will help ex-offenders to re-integrate and resume their place within the family and society, to reduce harm, to improve their work prospects and their health and, ultimately, to reduce re-offending. 

Why was the project set up?

The project was devised by the Wise Group and began in 2006 with initial funding from the then Scottish Executive. It arose from a consultation with prisoners and staff at Cornton Vale and Polmont prisons about recruiting ex-offenders to mentor those currently serving prison sentences. Both the positive response from this consultation and the learning from a peer mentoring anti-suicide project for young people saw the project evolve. 

Who are the participants and the partners?

RooP works with adult males, females and young offenders from six institutions across Scotland who are serving short-term sentences of between three months and four years and who are residents of Greater Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and the South West of Scotland. RooP works in partnership with the Scottish Prison Service and Families Outside with funding from a number of sources including the Scottish Government and the BIG Lottery. RooP also has links to the eight Community Justice Authorities in Scotland and the Criminal Justice Social Work Department.

“The essence of the project is change.  It’s about ex-offenders changing themselves with the help of someone who has changed.”

What does the project do?

RooP is focused on breaking the cycle of offending by working with the transient prison population to help participants to stay out of prison for longer periods. The offer of a life coach is made to all eligible prisoners and it is for the individual to decide whether they choose to engage with RooP. Those who wish to work with the project are matched with a life coach who takes a holistic approach in providing one-to-one peer support to the prisoner for four weeks before release and for a number of weeks afterwards.

The prisoner and their coach jointly devise an action plan prior to release which sets out goals for their future direction on leaving prison.  Following release, the life coach links the project participant to services, accompanies them to appointments, advocates on their behalf and provides practical assistance, emotional support and help to make informed choices. This way of working is termed by the project as a ‘bridging model’.

If appropriate, and when the participant is ready, they are put in touch with one of RooP’s employment consultants who will support them to find employment, training or education. It is recognised that employment helps to raise self esteem, allows the ex-offender to contribute to society, and provides a social network of non-criminals which helps to draw the ex-offender further away from offending; however, it can be difficult to secure employment with an offending background. Voluntary work is recommended as an option that confers similar benefits. The project also supports participants to re-establish and develop their relationships with families and significant others through a family relationship programme. 

Engagement with RooP is participant-led and lasts for as long as the participant wishes.  The average time a participant stays with the project is 13 weeks.

Has the approach changed over time?

The project has been in constant development since its inception. RooP was originally funded to deliver the service in three prisons. In 2008 the project was scaled up and extended to seven prisons across Scotland. Further changes have included the introduction of two Family Support Co-ordinators and the consolidation of operational and management procedures based on learning from experience.

“It’s an entirely bespoke service. It’s genuinely tailored to the needs of the participants.”

In what way is the approach ‘asset based’? 

Traditionally, ex-offenders are described by their problems. RooP focuses on the positives – skills, abilities and aspirations – and works with each participant on an entirely voluntary basis to plan for their future. An individual’s assets may have diminished during their imprisonment (e.g. confidence and self esteem) or they may express the desire to develop assets that they did not previously have (e.g. a life free from addiction, stable housing, or employment). 

The life coaches, many of whom have an offending background, are able to draw on their experiences in turning their own life around to peer mentor ex-offenders. Each life coach is at least two years away from an offending past and working with the project utilises and builds on their assets. This one-to-one, person centred support from workers with valuable and varied life experience, is central to the project. One life coach spoke of the opportunity to give something back that working with RooP has afforded him.  

Although life coaches work intensively with their participants, RooP is about doing ‘with’, not ‘for’ or ‘to’. RooP participants identify their own support needs which are most commonly addictions, homelessness and unemployment. Individual and community level assets are key to the project – each participant is both building on existing and developing new assets and bringing these positive changes back into their local community.

How has success been measured?

The evaluation of the project has taken an action learning approach to ensure that RooP participants are being supported in making positive choices around employment, health and family relationships. A Phase One (August 2006 to December 2008) and Phase Two (January 2009 to December 2010) evaluation have reported, both of which were carried out by the Criminal Justice Social Work Development Centre for Scotland, University of Edinburgh. 

What are the strengths and challenges? 

In the two year period between January 2009 and December 2010 RooP signed up and engaged at least once in the community with 1,557 ex-offenders. The majority of participants were male (93%) and the largest group were aged between 21 and 30 years (46% and 41% respectively). Nearly two thirds were serving sentences between six and 24 months and for most this was not their first time in prison; 40% had served between two and four prison sentences and over a third had between five and ten previous sentences. Nearly a fifth (19%, 293) of those who engaged achieved a ‘hard’ outcome (employment, training or education).  Social return on investment analysis found that RooP creates an average of £2 to £2.30 for every £1 invested.  

"RooP is a transformational change project.  It's helping people to become assets to society."

The life coaches’ experience as ex-offenders was valued and brought credibility to their role and they were found to have made extensive effort to reach individuals.  Life coaches themselves reported increased confidence due to ongoing experience and training. Participants also valued the ability of life coaches to meet them at the gate on the day of their release where this was considered appropriate.  

The Family Support Co-ordinators engaged with approximately 90 families annually. All participants were extremely positive about the Positive Relationships Programme and appreciated the opportunity to talk and listen.  

The current model means participants have one life coach in prison and a different community life coach although experience suggests that one life coach for the whole journey would be preferable. Participants have a wide and varied range of needs and the challenge remains of how best to support those who continue to engage well with the project despite on-going complex needs. 

Some participants return to prison on numerous occasions before they engage with RooP. The return to custody rates for those who engaged at least once in the community was 40% as compared to 44% for those who did not engage at all. However, the project recognises that keeping an individual out of prison for increasingly longer periods is a positive outcome for those who have consistently re-offended in the past.  

The project has encountered challenges in systematically measuring soft outcomes but is moving towards tangible progress measures in order to demonstrate the impact of the service. Much anecdotal evidence exits through participant feedback and case studies that the project is changing lives for the better and that mental health and addictions issues are being positively affected.   

At a personal level, staff expressed high levels of job satisfaction. Emotional involvement is common for life coaches and it can be disappointing when participants cease to engage. A sense of frustration at not being able to do more was expressed. However personal success stories from RooP participants are abundant. 

Relevant links to other parts of the Understanding Glasgow site:  social capital, community safety, education, economic participation and mindset