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Making the most of a second chance

It’s a bit "surreal" for Lucy as she watches a ‘stranger’ staring at the giant photograph of her on the wall. The ‘stranger’ is wearing a set of headphones and is transfixed as they listen to her story.

All around the room there are ‘strangers’ plugged in and looking at a series of powerful images while listening to the accompanying audio.

It’s the launch of Community Justice Scotland’s first national campaign aimed at changing perceptions of what justice should look like in 21st century Scotland. Part of the launch is an audio exhibition featuring the powerful stories of those people who have grabbed their second chance.

Second Chancers is centred around the voices of those whose lives have been touched by the justice system. Comprising of a series of short documentary films and a touring audio exhibition, the campaign tells authentic and raw stories of success and failure, change and transformation, obstacles and helping hands. It paints a warts-and-all picture of what works, what doesn’t and what we should be doing better.

Lucy – a former Venture Trust participant – is one of those voices.

“I wanted to be part of the campaign because I was given a second chance. Without that second chance and the support from Venture Trust and other organisations I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t be working towards trying to help other people caught up in my situation.”

“That second chance allowed me to become part of society and my community again. It allowed me to repair broken relationships, get healthy, get an education and have hope. We’ve all made mistakes and if more people are given the support and opportunity to change, Scotland will be a better and safer place.”

Scotland has one of the highest incarceration rates in Europe. Scandinavia’s incarceration rate is almost half that of Scotland’s, whilst having a similar crime rate. Short sentences in prison are not only less effective at reducing reoffending than sentences in the community, but can have additional effects beyond the time spent inside, including homelessness, unemployment and family separation.

Prison will always need to be an option for serious and violent crime but there is irrefutable evidence community justice is more effective than a short prison term.

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 in a community and wilderness setting 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 per cent of women who have completed the Next Steps programme are less likely to reoffend, and 83 per cent are employable, with a significant number already in work.

Venture Trust CEO Amelia Morgan said: “Many of those facing short term sentences are typically struggling with issues such as addiction, homelessness, isolation, and long term unemployment, as well as mental health problems. Often, it is these issues that have led to criminal activity, causing chaos and disruption amongst family and friends. A prison sentence, no matter how short, often heavily affects the individual and their family members.

“People do deserve a second chance. Someone’s past – where they grew up, their family background or previous negative and damaging experiences – does not have to define them.”

Community Justice Scotland chief executive Karyn McCluskey said: “Scotland has always been a country of inventors, explorers and innovators. In the fields of science, engineering and technology, we strive for what works rather than what has always been done. Why would we approach justice any differently?

“We deserve a smart justice system driven by the best evidence of what reduces and prevents offending, repairs harm and improves the lives of everyone. Isn’t that what justice is for?”

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said the Scottish Government was commitment to supporting those who have offended to address the reasons for their behaviour so they can contribute positively to their communities.

“Short custodial sentences often serve little purpose and this campaign supports our progressive, evidence-led approach to preventing and reducing offending and making communities safer.”

For more information about Venture Trust visit our website: www.venturetrust.org.uk

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