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The findings overall indicate that mentoring ex-prisoners offers a number of potential benefits for encouraging desistance, some which may not be recognised by the mentees. Four broad aspects of the mentoring relationship emerged as having the most influence on encouraging desistance among the mentees;
Access to services
No time for crime
What figured most prominently in mentee's accounts of why they decided to desist from crime was an emphasis on the motivation instilled within them by their mentors, which McNeill (2006) has argued should underpin the development of any 'desistance paradigm' for interventions which aim to reduce recidivism. All participants indentified that they were motivated by their mentor's obvious concern for their well being as individuals and suggested that this had helped them maintain their decision not to risk a further conviction. For example, one interviewee highlighted how their mentor's constant reminders of their state of mind whilst they were in custody served as a prompt for them to implement the decision not to engage in further criminal behaviour:
"[My mentor's] given me the motivation not to offend again... he always reminds me of when I was in prison and I missed my family, so whenever he says that I remember that I obviously don't want to go back there" (Interview 5)
This finding accords with Mayer and Timm's (1970) 'supportive-directive' typology that suggests offenders will look for a certain amount of direction from their intervention workers, in this case mentors, in making their decision to avoid crime.
Many interviewees also alluded to a change in self-identity encouraged by their mentor as a reason for them desisting, with two participants identifying this as being particularly important in their journey towards no longer abusing drugs:
"[When I was being mentored] it was the longest time I'd been substance free in ten years and that was partly down to what [my mentor] taught me...I haven't stopped using completely but I'm not all about my drugs anymore...I pay more attention to things like my son and my girlfriend" (Interview 3)
"Mentoring's motivated me to do other things with my time and not end up doing crime and taking drugs. My mentor encourages me to see the other side of life that don't have drugs...the only reason I used to do my crime was for my habit, so now I aint got a drug habit I don't need to go nicking" (Interview 1)
Similarly Ditton and Ford (1993) also concluded from their research on recidivism that a 'recidivist' at a 'turning point' might need to be actively encouraged or 'won over' in order to change their criminal behaviour which in this case mentoring appears to have achieved successfully.
It was also acknowledged by participants that their mentor's encouragement for them to actually be the leader in the change process that would result in them becoming desisters was a fundamental factor in the success of their relationship. Interviewees commented:
"The best thing about mentoring is that they help you get on your own" (Interview 1)
"[My mentor] set me targets for our next meeting like researching housing at the council, and jobs, he encouraged me to be independent and look for things by myself" (Interview 3)
This finding suggests that the rationale of the mentoring relationships that the participants were involved in were closely based on the established principles of motivational interviewing, a method developed by Miller and Rollnick (2002) that encourages a counselling approach that is both client-centred and semi-directive. This method aims to engage motivation within clients by developing discrepancy, or in other words, promoting an awareness of the gap between what prisoners want to aspire to be and their current behaviour or situation. As mentees become aware of this gap, they are encouraged to make their own plans in order to close them. Similarly Maruna's (2000) interview-based study of offenders in Liverpool emphasised the different types of 'narrative' on which people draw for their understanding of their own situations. A key element of desistance narratives was offenders belief that they had begun to take control of their own lives 'whereas active offenders...seemed to have little vision of what the future might hold, desisting interviewees had a plan an were optimistic that they could make it work' (Maruna, 2000: 147). Participants in this study seemed to be encouraged to support a desistance narrative by their mentors in the majority of cases.
All interviewees expressed that among the reasons their mentoring relationship worked, or was working so well, was because they trusted what their mentor told them when they were being encouraged to desist from crime, with most participants attributing this high level of trust to the fact they got on so well with their mentor:
"[Mentoring's] about friendship...you've gota trust them, that's what it is, because if you don't trust no one you can't really work with them...Ever since me and [my mentor] met we've had this click together...[My mentor] takes me for who I am, and not what I've done" (Interview 1)
"There's got to be compatibility with [your mentor] for it to work" (Interview 2)
"I just like [my mentor]. If you don't get on with the person you're not gona listen to anything they have to say" (Interview 5)
These findings replicate previous studies (See; O'Sullivan, 2000; Webb, 2000; Delaney and Milne, 2002; Millie and Erol, 2006; Barry, 2000; Rex, 1999) which have all placed a great emphasis on trusting relationships in increasing the likelihood of an intervention such as mentoring will achieve its aims, in this case desistance. Most mentees interviewed demonstrated that they had manifested feelings of personal loyalty towards their mentors which meant they felt an obligation not to 'let them down' by committing further crime. For example interviewees commented:
"[My mentor] trusts me...if I let me down, I'm letting them down as well, [my mentor's] been there so it wouldn't really be fair would it...it would just be like a kick in the teeth" (Interview 1)
"I don't think I would have gone straight back to crime because it's not what I wanted to do...my mentor was just a little bit of extra support, I appreciated that and didn't want to throw it back in their face" (Interview 2)
Partridge (2004) provides further support for the idea that feelings of personal loyalty toward those administering interventions can be a fundamental factor in the success of programmes which aim to reduce recidivism. Offenders in their study were 'more likely to trust their case manager, address their problems and ask for help if they saw the same person over a period of time' (2004: 9). Offenders whose support was disjointed were confused about what they were supposed to be doing and did not like telling each new advisor their personal histories. This also highlights the importance of continuing personal contact in increasing levels of trust between mentors and mentees which some interviewees recognised was heightened when their mentor had visited them whilst they were still in prison,
"I got to know [my mentor] a lot better [after meeting in custody] which made me actually want to see him on the outside" (Interview 4)
"Being mentored gave me someone to talk to whilst I was inside that I otherwise wouldn't have had, that meant a lot" (Interview 3)
It has been demonstrated by Clancy and colleagues (2006) that 'through the gate' interventions have been most successful in reintegrating offenders back into the community and encouraging them to desist from committing further crime. These findings are understood to be as a result of the mentor having already established a positive, trusting relationship with the mentee in custody and this being continued after release (Hudson et al, 2007).
One interviewee also acknowledged that the trust they held within their mentor was attributed to the fact they were detached from the enforced criminal justice sanctions they experience through Probation. Clancy and colleagues (2002) found this acknowledgment of a detached mentor be a vital factor in the effectiveness of mentoring schemes as the mentee will be more likely to participate in a relationship with them which as a consequence will increase their chances of desisting. The interviewee commented:
"With [my mentor] it's like more of a friendship, Probation, I'm only seeing them because I have to, but with [my mentor] I don't have to see him, I don't mind seeing him...I get on alright with my probation officer, there's just a bit of an atmosphere" (Interview 1)
Another participant also acknowledged the presence of an 'atmosphere' with their probation officer and attributed to their more successful relationship with their volunteer mentor to their acknowledgement that their mentor did not have the power to recall them back to prison like their probation officer did:
"If I go into probation looking fresh I could go back to prison...they might assume I've been selling drugs...with [my mentor] I can look normal and not get stressed. If I look fresh at probation then I'm gona get nicked. I just feel more comfortable with [my mentor]" (Interview 5)
O'Sullivan (2000) suggests that this preference towards volunteer mentors in comparison to paid criminal justice professionals could be reinforced by the voluntary nature of the role as the mentor is giving up their own time out of a genuine interest to help their mentee and not for financial benefit. One interviewee directly recognised that this increased their level of trust in their mentor:
"At first I didn't realise that [my mentor] wasn't getting paid, I wouldn't do that so it shows they really care I suppose" (Interview 2)
The majority of participants also expressed the trust of their mentor would have been negatively affected if they were unreliable which consequently could have a negative impact on their journey toward becoming a desister. Interviewee's commented:
"A good mentor would always be there to help" (Interview 1)
"[My mentor] is always there to talk to, they said if I ever feel like I'm gona go out and take drugs and that then just give them a ring and they'll come and meet me" (Interview 1)
"[My mentor's] always there to help me" (Interview 5)
"A bad mentor is like someone who'll give you appointments, and like your there waiting and their always late or they don't come...and like if there meant to do something for ya, they don't turn up to take ya, or if I've got an interview with someone and they don' turn up" (Interview 1)
The interviewees that expressed that the reliability of their mentor's contributed to their trusting relationship demonstrated that their mentor's were displaying pro-social attitudes and acting as a positive role model, which has been shown to be a significant factor in an intervention achieving a reduction in reoffending (Maguire and Priestley, 2006). Trotter (2000) proposes that by displaying pro-social attitudes and demonstrating respect for service users by being punctual and reliable makes it more likely that the service users will then begin to display these qualities also and as a consequence will be more likely to desist from committing further crime.
Access to Services
Although it has been acknowledged above that matching suitable mentors with mentees who can relate to each other and form close and trusting relationships can have massive implications for the success of mentoring in encouraging desistance, the participants also recognised how the differences between them and their mentors actually made for a more successful relationship too. They all commented that they found their mentor's superior knowledge of gaining access to services that might contribute to their effective resettlement extremely useful:
"[My mentor] knows who to ask and how to get it" (Interview 1)
"[Mentor's] need to be wise and either more your own age so you could relate to them, but an older person could be more wise so it depends I suppose" (Interview 2)
"A good mentor would be easy going, open-minded, have life experience and been through the same sort of thing, that would help" (Interview 3)
The services that participants recognised their mentor helped them achieve access to, that were most helpful in encouraging them to desist from crime were those that increased their chances of employment, gaining lawful accommodation and taking part in alternative social activities . These areas have also been identified in The Government's Reducing Reoffending National Action Plan (Home Office, 2004) as 'pathways' that if improved can significantly increased the likelihood of someone desisting from crime.
A number of researchers (See; Uggen and Kruttschnitt, 1998; Mischowitz, 1994; Farral, 2002) have provided evidence that desistance is associated with gaining employment with Shover (1983: 214) reporting from his study that a job generated 'a pattern of routine activities...which conflicted with and left little time for the daily activities associated with crime' and more recently LeBel and colleagues (2008) have also attributed gaining employment as being a key social factor that if achieved encourages desistance. All participants identified that their mentors helped in searching for and gaining the suitable skills necessary for employment which although not directly acknowledged by all of the participants, could be attributed to their increased successes in desisting from crime.
"We just talked about my problems, relationships and stuff and jobs coz that was my main problem" (Interview 2)
"He helped me get some certificates form Travis Perkins that I did in prison to help me get work" (Interview 4)
"I wasn't really getting anywhere [finding a job] so [my mentor's] helping me" (Interview 5)
"If it wasn't for [my mentor] I wouldn't have got this interview [for college]" (Interview 5)
In Burnett's study (1992, 1994) he found that twice as many persisters as the desisters had accommodation problems after release from prison. In conjunction with their mentees many mentors tried to overcome this problem by helping them search for suitable accommodation and therefore increasing the likelihood of them desisting from committing further crime:
"[My mentor's] helped me fill out [application forms] for housing" (Interview 4)
"[My mentor's] helped me fill out application forms for houses and actually took me [to view] to the [possible new accommodation]" (Interview 4)
Most participant's had also received other practical help that had increased their chances of being able to gain employment and accommodation, such as signposting them how to apply a lost birth certificate that would provide them with identification when applying for jobs, or being shown how public transport systems work, to enable them to travel by themselves and even by being provided with a diary for them to write appointments down in which would improve their organisational skills.
Many participants took part in new social activities with the mentor which they attributed to their close, trusting relationship and consequently would have resulted in them being able to engage more fully in 'community life' (Parsons and Bynner, 2002) which as a result has been identified as significant in the process of desisting from crime, most prominently by the Social Exclusion Unit (2002) in much of their work:
"[My mentor] found out about things for me to do because most [social activities] are for youths, nothing for my age, I'm twenty nine...Now I go to a bowls club every Sunday. I like it. I'm quote good at it now too" (Interview 1)
No time for crime
All participants identified that they would meet their mentor at least once a week for between thirty minutes and half an hour, and all bar one participant would also keep in contact with their mentor in between meetings through telephone calls, emails and letters in the case of those who were mentored whilst incarcerated. This meant that a large part of the mentee's time was now being taken up as mentoring involved a big time commitment for both parties and some interviewees actually attributed that their reduced levels of free time meant it made it more difficult to actually participate in a criminal lifestyle:
"The time spent with my mentor kept me away from committing crime, it took up my time" (Interview 3)
Some participants also recognised that the time consuming nature of their mentoring relationship meant they were more likely to dissociate themselves with the criminal peers whom they previously associated with and who had encouraged them to become and continue being involved in criminal activity:
"Before [I met my mentor] I used to hang around with the wrong crowd, lately I don't go out. I just go out with either my Mum or Dad or with my mentor, and that's the only times I go out, I'm trying to keep away from everyone you see...I might see [my old friends] doing [drugs] and it might affect my mind so I don't want to risk it" (Interview 1)
Evidence of a link between anti-social and criminal peers has been identified as early as the 1950s by Gleuk and Gleuk and has since been supported by others (See Hirschi, 1969; Andrews and Wormith, 1984; Andrews and Bonta, 1994; Wong and Gordon, 1999). Association with criminal peers should therefore be taken as legitimate target for reducing the chances of a mentee reoffending which the participants in this study suggest, as an intervention, mentoring has helped them achieve, and as a result has significantly increased their chances desisting from crime.
The main and encouraging point to make from the findings is that although participants identified their specific mentoring relationships as having impacted on their chances of desisting at differing levels, all interviewees did describe this impact as being wholly positive. In cases where the participant had actually reoffended whilst being mentored or after the relationship had ended they acknowledged this was due to reasons outside of their own and their mentors control, such as an underlying substance addiction which meant they 'needed' to offend in order for it to be fulfilled. This emphasises the 'zig-zag' nature of the desistance process that Burnett (2004) recognises will involve relapses according to individuals motivation and readiness to change, a reality which participants identified their mentor's both engaged with and supported.
Clearly the research is not able to establish a broad picture of how mentoring impacts upon the process of desistance in every case, as the interview sample is too small and focuses on only one mentoring approach. It also cannot be established that how the participants viewed their mentoring relationship as having a positive impact on them desisting actually did, nevertheless the findings offer some useful insight which indicates that in this instance mentoring can have a positive impact on desistance.