Samantha is a Careers Advisor based in prisons.
My job title is Careers Advisor; I have been based in ISIS for 3 years and also work at Thamesmead.
My role is to help offenders when they come into custody, talk to them about their short term or long term goals, assisting them with resettlement. I work on action plans and 6 weeks prior to release conduct an action plan review and provide them with information on access to education and employment opportunities on the out. Firstly I meet with clients and prove myself to them. Once they believe I will do as I say we can talk about any goals they have, and what they want to do.
I try to tell them anything is possible, enlighten them and give them hope, that’s it. Assure them that there are people who will give them a chance.
I did a degree and masters in psychology, and have always been passionate about criminal issues, volunteering at Belmarsh for a bit, working with ex-offenders in probation. Seeing the look on their face when they know that they can be a positive asset to society is what motivates me. I conduct 1 to 1 interviews with clients, which involves speaking to them about their goals and also involves research and networking with different organisations in London looking for any job opportunities or positive activities.
I often conduct workshops on employability skills to develop skills on how to get a job on the outside, and other workshops on motivation and employment.
How long or often I work with a particular client depends on how long their stay is and when they are to about to be discharged. I may see them a couple of times, or sometimes it can be 10 times in one year. At Isis we see every offender when they come into custody and then also when they are being released, so that’s quite good as we can capture everybody. Isis does not have a referral system as everyone is seen although there are educational referrals sometimes when a particular client is looking to do something specific.
I work with a number of other agencies, internally, namely Jobcentre Plus, Depaul, Lifeline Drugs, Working Links.
Externally, there are so many: London Youth, Action Acton, Southwark Works, Young London Working. Usually we use the organisations to refer people to as these organisations help offenders; in some cases it could be to ensure that client’s interview skills are up-to-date. We work with these organisations as they have proven that they are able to help our clients, and they give us feedback so we know that the work we are doing with clients is not in vain.
I work with my team and others when we have team meetings, which is every other month. I try to communicate with all advisors across London, and have sometimes shared information, but not regularly.
Young clients are more goal driven, know what they want, what help they are looking for. For older clients, 30s or 40s upwards, are slightly more pessimistic, as they have been in prison for some time and may have been in an out more than once so it can be hard to engage them. After a couple of meetings I am able to prove myself to them and build that trust.
Clients who have more positive outlook are more successful than those who have no plans or are not sure what they want to do when they are out.
It’s frustrating for me to meet guys who do not want to change. There are opportunities out there, and if they focused they could leave this lifestyle, but sometimes it is like talking to a brick wall, where they have made up their minds.
Success for me is if a client turns up for a meeting even if they are late. Young people can be all over the place so when they remember that they are meeting with someone else that’s good. When people are not engaging and going back to their old life that would be a failure and it’s frustrating when I have done a lot to help them.
To advisors I would say keep to your word. Doing what you have said is so important. If you say you will meet them, meet them, if you say you will bring something for them do it – especially working in this nature and with these clients, it is important for them to know that they can trust you. If you can’t attend a meeting then follow up with them and apologise, so they know you are human and you trying to help them.
Targets are also a frustration for me – we have a new way of working since August 2012, which means we are only allowed to see clients 3 times, and to get three action plans from them, that’s just not feasible.
Another issue is Internet access. It is so restricted here at ISIS. I have to usually do my research from another prison or at home.
I use Hotcourses, council websites to see what is available in the local area and Clinks which has links to other charities and organisations that are working with ex-offenders. Google is my best friend too! When I started at Isis there wasn’t a folder or database of information we could access all over London. If one advisor was familiar with the Islington area they would just have information on that area, I realised that there needs to be something where we could access information on all the different organisations that work in each borough to help new advisors. I have now created a folder to share this information with other advisors and we trying to get this at Thamesmead now.
Once a client is released that is it, we don’t have access to information once they are through the gate. Isis tracks ex-offenders through our good links with Southwark Works.
I check to see if they have attended their appointments and email regularly to get knowledge of what’s been going on and see if there is a positive outcome. We are not meant to do it but when you are doing lots of work with them, it’s nice to know what is happening, in some cases we don’t know what happens.