By Wendy Wilkinson, Deputy Director for Safer Communities, Scottish Government
We started our afternoon in Polmont with a visit to the education centre. There we heard about the peer mentoring programme (brilliantly assets based), how new inmates are supported and helped to adjust to life in Polmont. So many of the young men are also fathers and the parenting sessions are both practical and comprehensive, from nappy changing to understanding the way children develop.
I found it very stark moving between the buildings, walking along metal enclosed pathways. There was no doubt we were in a jail. It brings it home to you when a young man tells you his mum has never even seen his room, where he has lived for several years and will do for several more years to come.
Yet it is uplifting too and it is the people and their inspiration and determination that make it so. All the staff and the young men we met were hugely impressive, positive yet grounded in their situation. While work is done to help the young men return to their communities as responsible citizens, the victims of their crimes are not lost from sight as they are encouraged to look at the consequences of their actions.
At our Board meeting, the governor of Polmont, Sue Brookes, told us more about how Polmont works, their ethos and ambitions. Her passion and commitment was evident and it was wonderful. We also were privileged to hear from James Docherty, one of the mentors working at the Violence Reduction Unit. James told us the story of one of his mentees and the journey they are on. It was incredibly moving and I am sure there were a few lumps in throats around the table. A patent reminder of why we were there and why building safer communities is so important.
But what are those sparks? School exclusions and multiple bereavements are commonplace among the young people in Polmont. That must guide us in our prevention focus. Do we even know when children suffer a bereavement? Is there sufficient help and support proactively offered? If so, does it work and does it reach all those who need it? The Building Safer Communities Programme recognises people are at the heart – it’s people who make our communities and people, not systems or processes, are the solution to safer communities. A final quote from James that has stuck in my mind: “You can plant seeds [for improvement], but you need to stick around to water and care for them for those seeds to flourish and grow”.