Bedfordshire’s Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU), the flagship partnership for the county aimed at tackling the root causes of serious violence, has launched a new initiative working with HMP Bedford – a first of its kind.
The VERU Phoenix Project will be aimed at those under the age of 25, focusing on breaking the cycle of repeat offending by offering young adults a range of support services and educational opportunities which will help them to return to their communities and bring about a positive and lasting change.
The programme will launch in the coming weeks and involve a partnership approach from the VERU, HMP Bedford and the national charity, Young Enterprise (YE), which specialises in boosting employability and financial education skills.
“Ensuring offenders leave prison inspired and equipped for real change is vital if we want to see a reduction in repeat offending and criminality in our county. I have to assign the budget of the VERU in a way that ensures we are investing in all areas of early intervention for young people and this programme is certainly a good investment,” said Commissioner Holloway.
Kimberley Lamb, VERU manager, said: “We know that in many cases those involved in illegal activity are themselves subject to various degrees of violence and exploitation, with the lines increasingly blurred between victims and suspects involved in things like county lines.
“With the right help and support we know that many young people have the passion and talent to take a different path and turn their lives around.
“I am so grateful to the support of HMP Bedford for this pioneering approach, as well as the ongoing work of all our partners and projects working with vulnerable young people and communities across Bedfordshire.”
Of the 396 residents currently at HMP Bedford, over a quarter are under 25 and the majority of which will only be at the prison for a short time.
PJ Butler, Governor of HMP Bedford, said: “I am delighted that VERU and YE are working with my team and I to design and introduce this prison-community initiative, a first for HMP Bedford.
“Young adults have so much to offer our communities in custody and on release if given the right support. This initiative will enable a positive change to their lives by giving them the opportunities, critical skills and support they need to turn away from their former criminal activities.
“I am optimistic that our collaboration with VERU and YE will return responsible citizens, not offenders, to their communities on release. I am grateful to our new partners and Kathryn Holloway, Police & Crime Commissioner, for their support in making this happen.”
The project will initially be running a focus group with the young adults to assess their needs and what sort of educational support and skills they require to give them the best start when they are released and re-join the community.
The information from the focus group will help to formalise the programme for young adults and will accommodate the need for virtual support to ensure it can still go ahead during the pandemic.
Sharon Davies, Chief Executive for Young Enterprise, said: “I'm delighted Young Enterprise will be working in partnership with VERU and HMP Bedford and young people on the VERU Phoenix Project. We passionately believe that meaningful opportunities to develop and apply an enterprising mindset and skills can, with appropriate support, change young people’s futures.
“We can't wait to meet and engage with practitioners and young people to find out how they like to learn and the kind of support they feel will help them get the greatest benefit from on the project. We are really grateful to VERU and HMP Bedford for this fantastic opportunity to partner in this innovative project.”
The project is one of more than 20 programmes which is funded and run by the VERU this year, in an effort to reduce serious crime in Bedfordshire. The unit is governed by Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Kathryn Holloway. For more information about the work of VERU, please visit bedsveru.org.