Mentoring services for people in prison and on probation

A summary of evidence relating to the effectiveness of mentoring services for people in prison and on probation.

Mentoring is a one-to-one non-judgemental relationship. An individual (mentor) gives time to support and encourage another (mentee).

Mentoring programmes can differ in aims, content and the nature of the mentor-mentee relationship. Mentoring interventions and programmes are often facilitated by charities or third sector organisations.

What does the evidence say?

Research shows that mentors can provide the support that many offenders lack in their lives. This includes helping them access services and by providing positive role models.

Research suggests that mentoring:

  • is a potentially effective way of helping offenders build new social networks that can support desistance
  • can have some positive effects on reoffending, employability and motivation to change
  • can lead to decreased feelings of isolation and increased feelings of self-worth

Few mentoring programmes have been robustly evaluated for their effect on reducing re-offending or other outcomes. Some of those evaluated demonstrated a positive impact on reoffending, but not all. It’s also difficult to distinguish the effect of mentoring from other interventions individuals receive.

Overall, the evidence suggests that mentoring may be most beneficial when it starts in prison and continues beyond release. Mentoring is also most likely to be effective when the relationship is maintained over time rather than consisting of just one or two sessions.

What we know works well

  • where there are agreed goals from the outset
  • recruitment, training and retention of volunteer mentors- mentors need the experience, skills and support to meet their mentee’s needs and expectations.
  • strong line management for staff who oversee mentoring relationships - this supports effective oversight of the mentoring relationships
  • matching mentors to mentees based on shared expectations and sensitivity to gender, culture or race
  • working to a clear purpose with defined outcomes - these include for example finding employment, and reintegrating into the community (although many mentees require much less ambitious goal setting in the short term regarding the importance of small, manageable goals)
  • where the mentee and mentor work together to develop a realistic action plan - plans are reviewed regularly
  • mentoring relationships starting in prison and continuing through the gate, into the community
  • mentoring programmes that signpost the mentee to other support services
  • bringing the relationship to a definitive end

Mentoring is less likely to work well if:

  • The mentor or mentee has unrealistic or unachievable goals
  • Outcomes are imposed upon the mentee
  • There is a lack of commitment by the mentee and/or mentor
  • The mentor gives unsustainable levels of support to the mentee
  • The mentor has poor relational skills, including insensitivity to cultural difference
  • There is a lack of commitment from criminal justice organisations to facilitate mentoring

Further reading

Immediate Outcomes of Mentoring Interventions rapid evidence assessment Analytical Summary NOMS (2013)

Process Evaluation of The Informal Mentoring Project (2015) NOMS and Clinks project to increase support available for offenders leaving prison.

This page summarises the available evidence base and is informed by independent academic peer review. It does not represent Ministry of Justice or Government policy.

Published 15 May 2019