Wednesday 13 March 2013
"Prevention is always better than cure," said Minister for Prisons and Rehabilitation Jeremy Wright after commending the Premier League for their involvement in the Chelsea Foundation's prison programme, Unlocking Potential, at an event staged at the club's training ground.
"I am particularly grateful that Chelsea, the PFA and the Premier League are taking an interest in the future of our young people"
Jeremy Wright MP
Funded through the Premier League's Creating Chances scheme and Essex County Council, Unlocking Potential is a ground-breaking mentoring initiative designed to deter at-risk youths from criminal activity.
On Tuesday, youngsters from the programme met members of the Chelsea first team before taking part in a training session at the club's training ground in Cobham. As the session got under way, speeches about the project were delivered by Wright, Essex Police and Crime Commissioner Nick Alston and the Chelsea Foundation's Essex Development Manager Andrew Morgan.
"I am particularly grateful that Chelsea, the PFA and the Premier League are taking an interest in the future of our young people," said Wright. "This scheme is about persuading young people to take the right path. Prevention is always better than cure, and this is a good scheme in promoting those two crucial halves of the game - rehabilitation and prevention."
Unlocking Potential targets vulnerable young people both in and outside prison and works with them to reduce offending and re-offending.
The programme works with inmates from Chelmsford Prison and young people from Basildon, Jaywick and Canvey Island in Essex, and increases participants' employability and provides new opportunities either within the Chelsea Foundation or Chelmsford College.
Essex Police and Crime Commissioner Nick Alston said: "I've got the job of spending money on crime reduction and I look forward to working with the Chelsea Foundation to put that money into the right place to stop young people offending, to intervene early in people's lives, and to give inmates a chance in prison, making it less likely they offend afterwards. Well done Chelsea, well done the Chelsea Foundation. This is a great project."
A key element of Unlocking Potential is to deter young people from criminal behaviour and negative decision-making by taking them into Chelmsford prison to learn about life inside and the long-term consequences of committing crime and holding a criminal record.
The prison visits are part of a peer-to-peer learning model as coaching sessions are delivered by prisoners who have been educated by the Chelsea Foundation. These sessions are delivered with supervision and support by qualified Chelsea Foundation staff.
"I have never seen a quicker change in attitude from a group of people in my 26 years in youth services”
The visits leave a powerful preventative message with participants and deter them from offending. The programme is also designed so current prisoners can educate young people about the harsh realities of life behind bars as well as the short and long-term consequences of crime.
"I have never seen a quicker change in attitude from a group of people in my 26 years in youth services," said Michael O'Brien, Head of Youth Services at Essex County Council. "Even the most brazen and self-assured young men were quickly squirming in their seats.
"This was real experiential learning that was more valuable than any other diversionary programme that I have come across. I would really like to see the project develop into a permanent nationwide project as it ticks so many boxes in support of reducing crime and the prison population.
"Not only is it a great diversionary project but it gives the prisoners an opportunity to give something back and to reflect on their own life journey."
Chelsea defender Gary Cahill, who met the participants, was also impressed by the innovative project: "This is a really positive programme which is going to benefit a lot of people," he said.
"The lads here today may be on the verge of making a few wrong decisions, or they may have even made them, but by giving them the chance to go into a prison and speak to people who have made their own wrong decisions and are in there as a consequence can make a real difference.
"It's also really beneficial for the prisoners, who get the chance to learn new skills through football and also help prevent these youngsters from making the same mistakes."