Northumbria Community Rehabilitation Company (Northumbria CRC) runs a recovery support service with its Newcastle IOM team which has shown great results in its first year. There was a 37% reduction in crime during the first six months of engagement.
The recovery support service was commissioned in January 2013 and the contract was awarded to Changing Lives, a national charity which provides specialist support services for vulnerable people. It is led by Stephen Jamieson, senior peer recovery support worker who is an ex-offender and has made excellent progress in his own recovery from alcohol and substance addiction.
Stephen engages with service users who have been involved in high levels of acquisitive crime and who have a history of alcohol or substance misuse. He builds positive relationships with individuals and introduces them to agencies and peer support networks which can help support them towards abstinence and rehabilitation.
Stephen speaks from the heart about his own experiences in a way which resonates with the people he is working with. He provides a positive example of an alternative lifestyle, and provides an insight that staff cannot replicate. His passion makes people sit up and listen to him about what it takes to succeed in recovery.
Stephen explains: “I work with people with really chaotic lifestyles who come from an environment where they take little or no responsibility for their actions.
“My first step is to help people to see their situation for what it is and how it has contributed to their life. Once they can see this, it nearly always ignites a desire to do something about it. Only then can they begin their journey of recovery and start making changes.
“I had one lad referred to me and I worked alongside his probation officer and a worker from Plummer Court (drug treatment provider). He had never worked with a male member of staff before and it was a huge obstacle for him to overcome. Over a period of time I made a connection with him, which was to do with the fact I’d been there and I could explain how it was for me.
“Once he started to trust me, his barriers came down and he started to take responsibility for his actions. I worked with him for a number of months and got him in to ‘Free The Way’, a peer-led rehab facility. He’s been there five months now and his transformation is incredible.
His confidence and self-esteem have grown and he is now able to make plans for the future without being scared of the outcome. The service user said: ‘I’m very grateful to probation, Stephen and Plummer Court. Because of the potential they saw in me I was able to believe and see the potential in myself’.”
The recovery support service was evaluated by Northumbria University after 12 months. The focus of the evaluation was the impact of the support received by service users from the peer recovery support worker, particularly a reduction in offending behaviour
Data for 25 service users accessing support from Stephen showed a 37% reduction in crime (from 95 to 60 arrests) during the first six months of engagement, compared to the previous six months.
Service users engaged voluntarily with the recovery support service and welcomed the peer support. Many were looking for practical support with training and employment, but all who became involved were suffering from high levels of social exclusion, addiction problems, financial hardship, housing needs and poor physical or mental health.
Those who worked with Stephen found the support made a tangible difference to their self confidence, broadening the scope of their positive social networks and making it more likely they would remain in recovery. One person said: “He’s been there and done it. He’s in a good place now…. and that’s where I want to be.”
Sustaining the desistance and recovery are a challenge, and were linked to the ending of statutory support and exposure to negative social networks. Many of those who participated in the scheme saw the peer support as key to overcoming this, who help to bridge the gap into local communities.
Professor Michael Rowe, Northumbria University, explains: “The research evidence shows that desistance is a long term process. The peer recovery programme had a positive impact on offenders and this was associated with the positive relationship with the peer recovery support worker.”
Following the success of the pilot, Northumbria CRC is keen to extend the service and involve more of its service users with experience of recovery in supporting others. To this end, Northumbria CRC has commissioned a female peer recovery support worker to work with women offenders in Newcastle.
A local recovery group is also being established, which commences in October 2014 and will meet for two hours each Friday. It will include offenders who are in need of additional support, meeting with peer mentors who are also offenders but who have made sustained progress and are happy to share their experiences to help others. The group will also work closely with drug and alcohol partner agencies to ensure the right external support and provision is in place.
Probation officers will identify offenders who have made a considerable amount of progress and refer them to the peer mentor scheme. They will then complete an induction programme to develop their understanding of the role and establish their skills as a peer mentor.