Sheffield suspects to be offered help to turn their lives around within hours of being arrested

Crime suspects in Sheffield are now being offered help to turn their lives around within hours of being arrested under a new initiative aimed at helping to tackle South Yorkshire violent crime problems.

Monday, 20th January 2020, 4:00 pm
Updated Monday, 20th January 2020, 4:00 pm

It uses a team of ‘navigators’, professional counsellors who work in the city’s Shepcote Lane detention centre which handles those arrested in Sheffield and Rotherham.

They hope to catch the attention of suspects when they are at their most susceptible to the idea of changing their futures - often after hours detained alone in a cell.

Supt Lee Berry said: “The aim is to identify people looking for change and wanting to take positive life steps.

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Supt Lee Berry with custody navigators Stuart Otten and Darron (corr) Wilso

“Someone who has been in custody for 14 hours will have had a lot of thoughts going through their minds and that is an opportunity to engage with them and make it clear there are opportunities for them.”

The scheme is called Plan B Navigators because it offers the prospect of a constructive lifestyle rather than the likely alternative of repeat offending and provides the prospect of instant help with issues which frequently affect those in trouble with the law, such as housing, education, work and drug abuse.

“A lot come from challenging backgrounds and have not had opportunities and because of that they are caught up in a cycle of crime. If people are looking for life changes, it is about coming up with a plan, Plan B, to try to break that cycle,” added Supt Berry.

The scheme is operated by South Yorkshire’s new Violence Reduction Unit, set up by the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, using Home Office cash.

Supt Berry said the hope was to repeat the work at Shepcote Lane, where three navigators will be based, at other cell blocks in Doncaster and Barnsley.

He described the time spent in custody as a ‘reachable and teachable’ moment for those accused of crime.

Rather than just referring clients on to other services, navigators who identify prisoners willing to accept help will wait for them to be released and take them straight to the services they need.

Their aim is to steer offenders away from crime by providing the opportunities their lives lack without outside intervention.

Although the aim is to cut violent crime, they will work across a range of crimes because it is acknowledged that those caught up in the justice system are already at higher risk of being affected by violence.

Each plan is bespoke to the individual, and is drawn up to address the issues they are facing personally.

The navigators’ work does not end at the custody suite, with the expectation they will accompany those on a plan to the outside services which will help them and maintain that contact for up to six months, meaning around half their work could be done away from the cells.

The ultimate aim is to help people to escape the pressures which have led them into crime and, by doing so, reduce the risk of getting involved in violence.

Because the navigators scheme operates outside the justice system, taking part does not allow offenders to change the way they are dealt with by the authorities, although it is designed to help ensure they do not find themselves back in the same circumstances in future.A range of outside bodies are supporting the scheme, including the county’s five football clubs through their charitable foundations.

Stuart Otten, a social worker brought in as project manager, said: “Some people keep coming around and around and we need to break that.

“We are looking at reducing violent crime so we will be looking at offences linked to violence, like possession of drugs.

“People exposed to the criminal justice system are more susceptible to getting caught up in violence as well.”

South Yorkshire’s Violence Reduction Unit was established with a £1.6m Home Office grant and the same funding will be made available for another 12 months from April.

Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings made a successful bid for the money following an invitation to the police force areas most affected by the rise in violence over recent years.

Much of the work in this area follows the ‘public health’ model successfully pioneered in Glasgow, attacking the problem through removing the causes rather than punishing crimes as they occur.

The navigators scheme was drawn up using a combination of ideas from other areas of the country, which have been seen to work, but adapted for the needs of this area.

Although £1.6m is available for next year, decisions about how much will go into the navigators scheme will be made after early results have been analysed.

Elsewhere, the VRU is involved in work to identify the areas most affected by violence, so actions can be drawn up for preventative schemes to help keep communities safe.