Pwyll ap Stifin, PET's Welsh Prisons Project | 27 May 2020
Open to applications from all prisons across England and Wales, PET’s new Peer Mentor course is aimed at those with an interest in, or already working as, peer mentors in prison.
Covering the broad range of skills needed for mentoring, the course is equally valuable for prisoners working as mentors in education or resettlement, or as orderlies in gyms, healthcare or any other prison setting.
Why write a Peer Mentor course?
We know that mentors do extremely valuable work in prison, not just in supporting distance learners, but in all kinds of roles across the estate. When PET established the Welsh Prisons Project (WPP) in 2015, we immediately started working with peer mentors at HMP Cardiff – learning about their work and taking their advice on how to support our learners better.
However we also saw that, while mentors did important work, it was often difficult for them to develop their own skills through dedicated courses, unless they were part of a formal Information, Advice and Guidance scheme. There was also little on offer for those who were interested in mentoring but wanted to learn more before going for a peer mentor job in prison.
“Little value in writing a course ourselves – we needed to write it with prisoners”
The WPP team looked at a number of ways to offer prison learners access to an accredited mentoring course, but came to the conclusion that there was no better option than our speciality – distance learning (we’ve been doing it for over 30 years after all!).
From our experience, it was clear that peer mentoring in prison is a very particular skill – quite different from mentoring in other environments. We realised that there was little value in writing a course ourselves – we needed to write it with prisoners, both peer mentors and the people they support.
Co-production with learners at HMP Prescoed
Our first step was to commission Hafren Training, an educational company, to develop a pilot Peer Mentor course for learners to review and rework. We ran our first classroom-based unit with 12 learners at HMP Prescoed, in collaboration with Nev Brooks from the prison’s award-winning C.H.A.S.E project – a programme that prepares prisoners to work in the substance misuse field.
Many of these learners had experience of mentoring, and as they studied the course, they reshaped much of it to make it relevant to a prison environment. The course went back to Hafren Training to take account of all the changes and to transform it from being classroom-based to something that could be studied in a learner’s own time and space.
Ready to roll out across England and Wales
Next we needed to try out the new version of the course to see if it could be improved further. We recruited ten current or prospective peer mentors to trial it at HMP Parc.
They suggested including more practical exercises so learners could try out what they had learned, and recommended creating a resource booklet to use when mentoring in the future. We sent this valuable feedback to Hafren Training so they could make the final adjustments.
Thanks to the brilliant support and invaluable insight from learners at HMPs Prescoed and Parc, the course is now open to applications from all prisons across England and Wales.
A valuable first step into work, in or after prison
The Peer Mentor course is accredited at Level 2, making it a valuable first step for people interested in working in social care, youth work and the substance misuse field in or after prison.
Focusing on important mentoring skills like boundaries, active listening, and reflection, learners can study the course in their own time and it should take around three months to complete.
The course also comes with a resource booklet – a handy guide for the learner to use if they go on to work in a mentoring role during their sentence.
Do you support someone in prison who would be interested in taking the Peer Mentor course? Find out more about it here.
© Prisoners' Education Trust 2021