Crime prevention: a case of vision and value

Money well spent on Le Cheile mentoring programme

The importance of keeping young people out of prison, instead of locking them up, is slowly being accepted within the criminal justice system. But much remains to be done. A new adult mentoring programme for young offenders offers the prospect of reducing reoffending rates by up to 30 per cent and the scheme should be expanded within the Probation Service. It is not just a question of saving public money through these interventions. Mentoring adds to the self-confidence of the individuals concerned and allows them to turn their lives around and contribute to their local communities.

A report, Reducing Youth Crime in Ireland, sets out the benefits of the mentoring programme that was introduced in 2013. Independent analysis of this work found the risk of clients reoffending fell by 28 per cent and it recorded a reduced consumption of drugs and alcohol, improved self-confidence and general happiness among those being supported. The sample was relatively small – only 152 clients in 2015 – but the success rate of the programme suggests that 42 young people almost certainly stayed out of jail.

The scheme involves a one-to-one relationship, based on support services, in which volunteers from local communities act as positive role models for young persons through their advice and support. It has been estimated that for every €1 spent on the mentoring programme, savings of €4.35 are made in social and economic benefits. That estimate may be low because the scheme deals with young offenders. Within the adult prison population, the recidivism rate amounts to 62 per cent within three years. Keeping young offenders out of jail would have an obvious knock-on-effect on their later behaviour.

Supporting young offenders through the Le Chéile mentoring programme represents an administrative breakthrough that has been recognised as “a key part” of the Probation Service. To fulfil its potential, the scheme will require additional resources and funding. That, in turn, will call for political vision and social awareness. It would be money well spent.