Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice

MATTHEW ASHWORTH (West Yorkshire Probation)

MATTHEW ASHWORTH (West Yorkshire Probation)

AWARD WINNER 2013-14: Matthew is a Probation Officer who was nominated for developing an innovative approach to tackling burglary by 18-21 year olds in Leeds. His approach, part of the Safer Leeds Burglary Strategy, incorporates one-to-one interventions and group-work, based on the findings of desistance-research, as well as links to education and skills training, and housing and employment services. It has contributed to a 30% drop in burglary locally since its launch. (This Award is supported by the Helen Hamlyn Trust.)

‘The criminal justice system which chooses to demarcate a young person from an adult at the arbitrary age of 18 has emerged as one of the starkest examples of where vulnerable young people are being failed,’ says Lost in transition, a 2005 report from the Barrow Cadbury Commission on Young Adults and the Criminal Justice System that struck a chord with Butler Trust Award winner Matthew Ashworth.

Matthew’s award, sponsored by the Helen Hamlyn Trust, is for developing an innovative preventative approach towards working with 18 to 21-year-olds convicted of burglary. An Officer at West Yorkshire Probation Trust, he developed his initiative specifically to target this age group and those in transition from youth offending to adult probation services.

‘There was a gap in provision that was identified by one of my bosses who started to look at putting a piece of work together to address the issue in Leeds, where there’s a specific burglary problem,’ Matthew tells Inspire. ‘My interest was because I’d worked with young men in this age group before and it just felt like a really key time when you could actually effect change in their lives.’

Critically, it offers an opportunity to engage with young people before their offending behaviour has a chance of becoming ingrained and burglary becomes a way of life, he states. ‘It feels like a point at which you can catch them, when they’re starting to move out of some of their more immature views and into seeing some of the longer-term consequences of their choices. They’re starting to look at adulthood and thinking, “what am I going to do – do I keep going down this path or don’t I?” It feels like 18 to 21 really is a key point when everybody else starts seeing them as adults.’

Launched in 2011, the initiative involves both one-to-one approaches and a group work programme called Rebrand Blueprint, and has helped to reduce the burglary rate in Leeds by 30 per cent. The project breach rate, meanwhile – at 28 per cent – is 13 per cent lower than in a matched comparison group, and the completion rate almost double. The project is part of the Safer Leeds burglary strategy and Matthew works alongside the police, PPO and youth offending teams and Signpost, an intensive family resources team, while driving the project with his own ideas and initiative.

The programme focuses on the impact of burglary on its victims and the community, with the group work foregrounding empathy. Where appropriate, a restorative justice approach of bringing the offender face to face with the victim is also used, and there’s a focus on positive influences such as family and close work with family members. The project also liaises with a wide range of other agencies to address issues that can affect reoffending, including employment and training providers, housing organisations and substance misuse services.

So were there any initial barriers to getting the initiative off the ground or did everyone seem to go for it straight away? ‘There were a couple of issues about where it was going to be placed,’ says Matthew. ‘It was originally going to be situated with the police, but they were focusing on some very different issues. Rather than trying to deal with people who had the potential to become high risk, they were focused on those who were already high risk, so there was a bit of difficulty explaining, positioning and maneuvering myself so that I was in the right place to do some of the stuff that we’ve done.’

The project has ‘involved a lot of input from a lot of great people’, he says, and between late 2011 and early 2013 Matthew worked with 55 offenders. While this may not seem like a huge group – at around 11 per cent of the probation caseload – between them they were actually responsible for almost 40 per cent of the burglaries in Leeds.

‘On the whole the feedback from the offenders has been positive – I’ve been asking them to engage at a much higher level than they otherwise would have, and we’ve seen some good returns,’ he says. ‘I guess you get a mixed bag – sometimes you get a sense that people just aren’t ready to engage – but there’s been a good sense of relationship built with some of the lads. I had one come back to me who’s really close to the end of his order and he’s looking to set up a car refurbishment business with a bit of help from the Prince’s Trust and the move-on stuff that they’re doing, so that’s a huge move-on from where he was at the beginning of the project.’

Another offender commented that the new approach had ‘made all the difference’ to him. ‘I’ve come out of prison and I’ve not done anything wrong, and even I’m surprised. I’ve changed my life around and I never thought I would. My parents are proud of me now.’

Matthew is keen to point out that the 30 per cent drop in burglary is down to more than just his project, however. ‘It’s all the combined efforts that were commissioned by Safer Leeds – the additional police resource, the work done with PPOs, the early intervention stuff – it’s all in the mix.’ Meanwhile, those rates are continuing to fall, with Safer Leeds estimating a saving to the city of more than £11m.

‘Matt’s approach is creative and innovative and he works exceptionally well with everyone – his offenders, colleagues and partner agencies,’ said West Yorkshire Probation Trust Chief Executive Sue Hall. ‘His legacy is secure and many people across West Yorkshire may not realise but they will owe a positive future to Matt’s vision and hard work.’

The aim now is that the initiative be rolled out across the whole of West Yorkshire Probation. ‘The work’s building in to the transitions work that we’re developing here now,’ he says. ‘Obviously, probation’s in huge flux at the moment, but we’ve been situating Probation Officers into the Youth Offending Team in a slightly different way, so that they’re working with transitions cases – the slightly older cases – and looking at how they move between services and how we make that more effective, which is a greater resource than just me. So we’re trying to plug the project into that greater resource so there’ll be three people doing a very similar job – identifying those up and coming burglars, working with them in a similar way that I’ve been, and using some of the resources that we’ve developed. So it should be broadened out, and some of the stuff is being hopefully fed into the future plans of probation as well.’

Partnerships Manager at West Yorkshire Probation Trust, Jude Roberts, calls Matthew ‘resilient, talented and committed’, and says ‘there is no better testament to his approach and his work than the overwhelming success of this project, its role in significantly reducing burglaries in Leeds and the fact that we’re about to mainstream his project across West Yorkshire Probation.’

And how does he feel about having his work recognised by the Butler Trust?

‘I think the award’s very encouraging,’ he says. ‘There’s an element of pride and also, I guess, an awareness that a similar award could have been given to any number of places in the probation service. So an awareness that it’s just one piece of a much wider picture of great work that’s being done.’

CONTACT

For more information: contact West Yorkshire ProbationProbation Service

Top of the page