Individuals with firsthand experience of the prison or probation system are being assisted in rebuilding their lives through an innovative initiative funded by the Mayor of West Yorkshire.

In a groundbreaking trial, a cohort of six individuals collaborated with the ex-offender-led charity User Voice to attain a level one NCFE educational qualification. Additionally, they secured fixed-term positions as Peer Commissioners with User Voice.

User Voice and the Peer Commissioners will play a pivotal role in the Mayor’s upcoming efforts to restructure a crucial victims’ service, specifically focusing on restorative justice. Leveraging their personal experiences, they aim to ensure the service addresses the intricate needs of victims while actively involving offenders in their rehabilitation.

Jay, who has personal familiarity with the criminal justice system, faced challenges with confidence and self-belief before participating in the project.

Jay, said: “My confidence is developing each time I come. It’s been fantastic, I couldn’t have asked for a better group.

“After volunteering on the project I want to continue to help others through hard situations like I’ve experienced and open new doors them and for myself.”

Certificates were bestowed upon the group by Tracy Brabin, the Mayor of West Yorkshire, and Alison Lowe OBE, Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, at an event in Leeds this week.

West Yorkshire Mayor, Tracy Brabin, said: “I am on a mission to create a safer, fairer West Yorkshire and that includes supporting ex-offenders into employment and positive pathways.

“Whilst victims of crime remain at the heart of our work, it’s so important that we also support people leaving prison or probation and tackle underlying issues.

“We hope that the learning from this pilot will not only continue to help our communities locally but also be adopted nationally.”

Simon Boddis, CEO of User Voice, said: “This project brings people’s lived experience of the criminal justice system to the heart of systemic change. Over the past 14 years we have seen the positive effects that this can have not only on an individual’s life but also communities and the wider system.

“The peer commissioners trained as part of this project will now go on to ensure that services supporting people leaving prison in West Yorkshire are robust, and effective and help prevent future victims.

“It is important that we do not stop there. We strongly urge that this pilot is adopted nationally to support more prison leavers and give them a voice to help drive positive change.”