Lancaster YMCA

YzUp Offenders Rehabilitation Programme

YzUp began in 2000 with the aim of helping young offenders to move beyond the all too frequent cycle of (re)offending and prison time. YzUp’s recorded outcomes turn national reoffending rates on their head with 80% of participants steering clear of reoffending. FCSCT has contributed to the costs of employing a mentor for the programme since 2003.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Ann was referred to the YzUp Project from the Youth Offending Team in 2005, when she was just 16 years old. She was described as a ‘serial offender with drug, alcohol and violence issues, and well know to the police’.

She spent many years in the ‘Care System’ and had eight social workers in 13 years.

Every time she had built up a trusting relationship, the social worker was moved or left the job. Forming mutual trust and respect takes time and Ann was never given time (well she did get time, but in a different context) to trust and rely on her social worker, when after several months she knew she would be abandoned and have to start to build another relationship. Consequently she found it difficult to engage and mistrusted everyone, to the point of pushing away those that got close, because all she had known was rejection.

Within the first ten days of working with her she was arrested six times for various offences, put on a Home Detention Curfew and banned from entering the town centre. She believed she was a victim of police harassment and intimidation and bore the scars to prove it, both physically and mentally.

My esteemed colleague, Porky, became her key worker and slowly developed a close professional relationship based on reciprocal trust and respect, which was possibly a first for Ann. He discovered that Ann was a very intelligent, sensitive and caring girl who had been a Grade A student two years previous.

Ann had a lot of pent up anger due to years of frustration of living an unsettled way of life and lack of support. She used alcohol to ‘escape’, but under the influence she was often aggressive.

Ann felt abandoned, unloved and angry. She rebelled against the system and fought back against anyone in authority. Her peers were from similar dysfunctional backgrounds, with low self-esteem, no goals, no prospects and no hope. Labelled as ‘scrotes and scum’ they will act out the label, become proud of challenging and defying authority and the system. It’s the only place they get affirmation, validation, an identity and a sense of belonging. She gained a reputation! Better to be noticed than ignored. She didn’t care if she was caught, she had nothing to lose.

But, alas, She fought the Law and the … Law won! Ann was sentenced to 12 months in a secure unit and served six months. On release she was accommodated in a decent flat with support from Aftercare YOT and the YM.

Due to Porky’s trusting relationship with Ann, she agreed to participate in the annual YzUp Residential at Lakeside in February 2007. Reluctant at first, but once she stepped out of her comfort zone, dropped the image and the attitude, she was brilliant. She proved to be an articulate, thoughtful and inspirational figure, motivating others and showing great leadership qualities.

Then the following month she began the Prince’s Trust Volunteers, a 13-week course designed to improve self-esteem, confidence, work ethic, communication and social skills and employability. Again Ann showed leadership qualities and an ability to motivate and inspire people. Lancaster YM was the building chosen by the group to renovate as part of their community initiative. Ann completed the course to glowing reports and made a very emotional speech at the award ceremony. She had goals, plans and opportunities and a good support network. But she still had the anger and fear.

However, unable to gain full-time employment and living on benefits, in a flat alone, bored and needing company, she began to drift back to old associates and back into drug and alcohol abuse and crime. She reverted back to her old behaviours and became known as a prolific offender, again targeted and eventually sentenced to 12 months in HMP Styal.

Styal prison has a reputation for self-harm and violent behaviour amongst the inmates and Ann was no exception. She became depressed and angry. She would cut herself to relieve the pain, and then when the officers came to assist she would lash out. She got a reputation as a violent and dangerous prisoner, often sent to the isolation block.

She had been prescribed anti-depressants and we noticed, on visits, a gradual change. She felt afraid and paranoid and episodes of self-harm increased. Following one incident, where she refused to come out of her cell, the prison officers donned riot gear and burst in. She lashed out and injured an officer and again was sent to the block.

She was interviewed by a psychiatrist who diagnosed her as Bipolar. She was prescribed strong anti-psychotic drugs such as olanzipine and fluoxetine.

The following visit, her care worker and I were shocked to see the deterioration in her demeanour and appearance. She was shuffling not walking, her eyes rolled and her tongue curled with her mouth open. Her speech was drawled and slow, sometimes incoherent. Prior to this visit she was a lively, talkative, angry, rebellious teenager.

We arranged a meeting wit the health officer, personal officer and her housing worker. They had convinced Ann that it would be in her best interests to apply for a place in Guild Lodge, a supported housing project for the mentally ill.

Ann was convincing herself that this was the best option and that if she didn’t take it, it would only be a matter of time before re-offending and going back to HMP Styal. She started to talk of being unable to cope on the outside and feeling paranoid.

Fortunately Ann was a ‘looked after child’, and the Social Services had a duty to pay full housing benefit for her and she was accommodated in a decent flat, away from old associates. On release, we saw Ann once a week when she visited Probation and her life was empty. She slept all day, waking in the evening to eat a meal, watch TV, then sleep.

After several weeks she decided she wanted to reduce her prescribed drug intake and attend college. We encouraged her to set a five-year plan of education if she found subjects she enjoyed. She began with taster courses in Youth and Community Work and through her enthusiasm, intelligence, commitment and experience has become a girly swot, resulting in her passing the exam to enrol on an Access course for University in September.

She is now off the medication completely, has not taken any illegal substances since her first week of release and has abstained from alcohol. This is a remarkable turn around and the YzUp team have played a part, along with Andrea, Lynn and Wendy. The major credit goes to Ann who is fighting the system from a different angle, against all odds, and this time looks like winning.

Ann still visits the YM on a regular basis because she trusts and respects the whole team. Our philosophy of non-judgemental, anti-oppressive practice in a voluntary relationship works. She keeps coming back because she knows we care.

The questions is … how many other young offenders have entered the prison system neglected, disaffected and angry, to be ‘rehabilitated’ and come out diagnosed with a profound mental illness, because the prison authorities could not cope with their behaviours and did not have the time nor the inclination to find out the real issues behind their offending behaviour. The system is crazy, as opposed to the offenders.”

The names of the characters have been changed to protect the innocent.

Case Studies