Prison gate mentors scheme unveiled
Prisoners are to be escorted throughout their first day of freedom, as part of a fresh drive to reduce re-offending.
Mentors will meet offenders at the gates of a jail and accompany them for their first day out, under the new probation service scheme.
Daily visits will also be carried out for at least the first week, it has been revealed.
Cheryl Lamont, acting director of the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI), said the project aimed to provide intensive resettlement and rehabilitation support from the moment a prisoner walked out of jail.
She said: "We know that the first days and weeks after being released from prison is a critical time in ensuring an offender does not go on to re-offend.
"Research shows that a significant proportion of male prisoners released from custody are recalled in the first few weeks of release because they fail to comply with supervision or reoffend in the community.
"We are therefore introducing a project which will enable mentors to begin work with offenders four weeks prior to release and for a maximum of 12 weeks after release."
The project is being specifically targeted at male offenders aged under 30-years-old who are subject to post-custody supervision.
Funding for the scheme has been secured through the Executive's Change Fund.
Ms Lamont added: "We believe it will enhance community safety and ensure there are fewer victims of crime.
"The mentors, who will come from the voluntary and community sector, will meet the offenders at the gate of the prison on their day of release and stay with them during their first day out.
"They will see them on a daily basis for the first week, and if required for longer, to provide practical support to help manage the risks identified by probation."
If required, mentors will ensure offenders have access to housing and addiction services, the Probation Board said.
Vilma Patterson, chairman of PBNI, said: "I have no doubt that this project will help change lives and reduce the numbers of victims."