Cabinet Secretary for Justice Humza Yousaf was “moved” today after meeting with participants of Venture Trust’s criminal justice programmes to hear first-hand how keeping people out of prison benefits individuals, society and creates safer Scottish communities.
Mounting evidence shows that community sentences are more effective at reducing reoffending than short prison sentences. Venture Trust runs specific development programmes aimed at supporting people to take charge of their own life, acquiring the necessary resilience and skills to take responsibility, be ready to look towards employment, training or education and nurture positive relationships. These outcomes are reducing rates of reoffending and providing paths to rehabilitation.
The Scottish Government’s Justice Vision and Priorities and the subsequent proposal to end jail terms of less than 12 months will set challenges to address reoffending in communities. However, Venture Trust with support from the Scottish Government and other funders is delivering collaborative and effective community-based interventions.
Venture Trust chief executive officer Amelia Morgan said: “We believe there should be a far greater emphasis on rehabilitation alongside unpaid work and other measures of support in community sentences. We are committed to investing in our community-based provision and working collaboratively with Scottish Government, local authorities and third sector partners to help people get their lives back on track and away from potential involvement in crime.
“Independent evaluations show our criminal justice programmes have positive impacts on individuals. They have gained new skills, improved their confidence and have started working or studying. They are more stable and less likely to reoffend. These positive changes are then transferred to their families and communities.”
Venture Trust has supported hundreds of people caught up in the criminal justice system into positive destinations of education, training, volunteering or employment. Monitoring data from the last five years shows that for our criminal justice programmes: two thirds of participants showed behaviours and circumstances likely to reduce risks of reconviction; 60% improved their relationships with those around them and were making increased use of services and opportunities in their community; and 80% improved their employability skills.
Venture Trust’s Living Wild and Next Steps (women) programmes comprise three phases. These include one-to-one and group work, and an intensive multi-day (5-10 days) journey in Scotland’s wilderness, where outdoor activity and experiential learning techniques are used as a mechanism for unlocking and redeploying skills, building confidence and raising aspiration. Following this journey, the participants are given support to achieve their individual goals.
Through a preventative and long-term approach, the focus is on an individual’s strengths and equips them with essential life-skills while building confidence. This evidence-led method tackles a cycle of harm and inequality which leaves some people in the margins of society.
“Where someone grew up, their family background or previous negative and damaging experiences - do not have to define them. Everyone deserves compassion, access to opportunity and justice. In turn this will allow for a safe, just and resilient Scotland,” Morgan said.
Participants from Venture Trust’s Next Steps programme Annabelle and Angela shared their inspiring journeys with Mr Yousaf.
Read Annabelle's inspiring account of her time with Venture Trust:
Justice secretary Humza Yousaf said: “I was deeply moved hearing the impact the work of Venture Trust can have on helping individuals who have offended to turn their lives around. We know from evidence that community-based interventions are more effective than short-custodial sentences and programmes such as Living Wild and Next Steps can help individuals to address the issues they are battling with which helps prevent re-offending and make positive changes that benefit them, their families and their communities.”
For further details of the Venture Trust’s programmes, visit: http://www.venturetrust.org.uk/programmes/
On a crisp cold morning Timo Condie wakes up and heads out into the dark. Despite the bracing temperatures of the pre-dawn he is in good spirits.
The working day is starting on the horse racing yard in the south of England where Timo is a work rider. His job is to muck out the stables and then ride the horses in order to exercise them and ensure they are in top physical condition before they race. Timo has also been training as a jockey and is due to make his racing debut in coming months.
Astoundingly, two years ago Timo had never even patted a horse let alone sat on one.
“I can’t believe this is actually my life. I have to sometimes tell myself ‘this has actually happened,’” Timo says.
It’s been an incredible turnaround for the 21-year-old.
Just a few years ago, Timo also found himself out in the cold and darkness of the early mornings. But back then there were no reasons to be happy. He was lost. Depressed and homeless.
A dream of becoming a soldier in the Black Watch had been shattered through injury and without the direction of the Armed Forces, Timo’s life had become rudderless. His relationship with his family broke down, he began drifting across the UK.
He ended up living rough. Amidst the despair and frustration, substance misuse also became part of the teenager’s life.
Timo’s experience trying to cope after leaving the army highlights the risks that can face early service leavers. He says he still had the military mentality ‘shut up and soldier on’. “It makes you feel there’s a stigma in asking for help, even if you’re desperate.”
He eventually returned to his home town of Inverkeithing but not to his family. Instead he survived on the streets and in the woods.
“I had a sleeping bag and a travelling shelter I’d put up. It was for about nine months and it got pretty bad with taking drugs to try to find the happiness I was missing,” Timo says.
“I was so depressed, anxious and was having suicidal thoughts.”
At rock bottom, Timo came into contact with Venture Trust referral partner Scottish Veterans Residences (SVR) which works with homeless ex-service men and women. With support, security and a roof over his head, Timo began his journey from homelessness to horseback.
He was referred to Venture Trust and engaged with his outreach worker Clare. She explained that he met the criteria for a programme specifically for ex-servicemen and women struggling with civilian life – Positive Futures. The programme has been funded by the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT) - a £35 million funding scheme run by FiMT using an endowment awarded by the Big Lottery Fund, with UK Government LIBOR funding and the European Social Fund.
Timo was initially hesitant to commit to the programme. However, through regular meetings Clare discussed what the programme could offer. How it could provide him with the means to a better future. It was also during this time Timo encountered a horse for the first time in his life.
An SVR support officer asked if he wanted to spend the day at the Saddle Up Ranch in Angus. The ranch is a charity that uses horses for therapy. Timo remembers it was a Friday and the suggestion did not immediately appeal to the young resident.
“Why would I want to give up my Friday going to look at horses? I’d never wanted to be around a horse before in my life. I thought it’d be a waste really as I didn’t even like horses.”
This was a similar attitude Timo had been showing towards taking part in the second stage of the Positive Futures programme – a wilderness journey in the Scottish Highlands. Participants learn key skills include problem solving, communication, time management, accountability, establishing trust, dealing with challenging situations, and giving and receiving feedback.
But after taking the bit between his teeth, Timo committed to both visiting the ranch and taking on the wilderness journey.
Being around the horses “worked” for Timo. As he spent more time with them his anxiety and stress levels decreased and before long was offered a chance to ride. The lightweight lad was a natural.
When the train pulled in to Dundee station after Timo’s wilderness journey, Clare was there to meet him. It was a different person who alighted onto the platform she remembers. When she asked how it was he replied: "I’m now ready to take on the world. Before I was very much stuck”.
"I thought I was the only one going crazy but it was nice to talk to people going through the same things," Timo says.
Timo says the best part of being supported by Venture Trust was that there was never any pressure and I felt comfortable working towards the journey at my own pace.
“It felt like it was all up to me to make the decision that I was ready for change.”
And there were changes.
“I came back with new ways of thinking and doors were opened in my mind. After having been so depressed and anxious there felt like there was a way out. After the wilderness journey I was more motivated. Before I had ideas but didn't do anything about this, now I am more focused and determined. My relationship with my family also improved.”
The “way out” was horses. With restored confidence, a lot of hard work and support from all of the charities involved, Timo landed a jockey traineeship before getting a job with one of the UK’s leading racing stables.
The frost sits on the grass and the mist hangs in the early dawn. The thunder of hooves reverberates across the fields. On the back of one of the thoroughbreds blowing hot clouds of air sits Timo Condie riding into his future and hopefully a future winner.