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Chris Grayling's Prisoner Mentoring Plan

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Offenders should be "met at the prison gate" by mentors who can help them escape a life of crime, the Justice Secretary will say today.

Calling for an "enlightened" approach to dealing with criminals, Chris Grayling will set out plans for a major extension of mentoring provided by voluntary groups and private companies on a payment-by-results basis.

In a speech, he will decry the "tragedy" of prisoners leaving jail with no idea how to get their lives back on track.

"Whether you are the hardest of hardliners on crime, or the most liberal observer, every single one of us has a vested interest in an enlightened approach to reducing reoffending," he will say.

"We can't just keep recycling people round and round the system."

David Cameron has called for a "rehabilitation revolution" under which virtually all prisoners get help breaking the cycle of reoffending.

Currently only those who are jailed for more than a year are given rehabilitation, but the Prime Minister wants all but a small number of high-risk prisoners receive support by the end of 2015.

Mr Grayling will say today that mentors - including reformed offenders, or "old lags" - can help prison-leavers with issues like housing, getting a job and tackling drug and alcohol problems.

"When someone leaves prison, I want them already to have a mentor in place to help them get their lives back together," he will say.

"I want them to be met at the prison gate, to have a place to live sorted out, to have rehab or training lined up, and above all someone who knows where they are, what they are doing, and can be a wise friend to prevent them from reoffending.

"Often it will be the former offender gone straight who is best placed to steer the young prisoner back onto the straight and narrow - the former gang member best placed to prevent younger members from rushing straight back to rejoin the gang on the streets.

"There are some really good examples out there of organisations making good use of the old lags in stopping the new ones. We need more of that for the future."

But Harry Fletcher, of the National Association of Probation Officers, cast doubt on the plans, telling the BBC the government would need "an army of volunteers or employees of private companies to do it properly."

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