We have had fifteen of our Longford Scholars graduate this summer just gone. More than half got firsts, so plenty of reasons to celebrate, but what caught my eye in particular was the one whose first job post-graduation was to join the Probation Service.
Why? Well, the Longford Scholarships scheme, which has been running since 2005 and has to date given almost 500 young men and women financial and mentoring support to go on to university, is open only to those who have served a prison sentence within the past five years. Or are still serving one. Or are about to be released.
So, this young person – I am going to spare their blushes by not giving any more details – has gone in a short period of time from being under the supervision of a probation officer to being on the road to becoming one. And they are not the only graduated Longford Scholar making this remarkable journey. We had another of our past graduates taken on by the Probation Service earlier this year.
Why I am so pleased about both these success stories is that here at the Longford Trust, the charity that runs the Longford Scholarship scheme (which also includes an employability project that helps every one of our current cohort of 70 award-holders prepare themselves to land a job in the career of their choice on graduation), we are very keen indeed to build better, stronger links with the Probation Service so that as many of its members as possible know about our scholarship awards and can direct those they are working with on their release from prison to think about applying to us for help in going on to university.
There are, of course, many different roads into employment after prison for those wanting to continue their rehabilitation. And university isn’t for everyone. But at a time when roughly 50 per cent of the nation’s young people continue to believe that getting a degree is a productive thing to do in terms of their life’s ambitions, then we have to ask why so few soon-to-be-released prisoners and former prisoners choose it.
Anyone who has spent time in a prison education department will know, as we do, that there are plenty of potential graduates there. It is just a question of persuading people who disproportionately come from backgrounds where going to university isn’t known about or valued that it could be somewhere life-enhancing for them, that they will fit in, that they are up to it even if they have flunked school, and that – when the going gets tough on their second chance, as it inevitably does for most students at university – they will have somewhere there to encourage and support them in the form of the Longford Trust, its trained volunteer mentors who work one-to-one with each award holder, and its employability project that can offer then work placements and internships that will impress potential future employers.
We need your help as probation officers in getting this hopeful message over to them. In the past 17 years, we have seen almost 80 per cent of our award-holders get degrees, land good jobs, build stable lives, get married, have families. It is what we all want them to achieve. Fewer than five per cent go back to prison – what we don’t want to happen.
So, please, come and say hello to us at our stand at NAPO’s AGM if you are there on Friday 14th. Or look us up online – www.longfordtrust.org Or come to our annual Longford Lecture on November 22 to hear Mina Smallman’s address and meet some of our graduates (details on the website). Or follow us on Twitter – @LongfordTrust – for updates on when applications have to come to us.
We look forward to hearing from you.