SOS Gangs Project is the first ever ex-offender led project in the UK. The project has dramatically cut re-offending, with just less than 20% being recalled for further offences against the national average of 75%.
Who better to help young people get out of the negative cycle of gang crime than ex offenders, who have been in their situation and have firsthand experience of the problems they face? Southwark Offenders Support (SOS) is an individualized, tailor-made mentoring programme run by ex offenders, that works with prisoners at high risk of re-offending -particularly prisoners involved in gang-related crime- providing support both in prison and upon release. It reintegrates former prisoners back into society, with the core goal to reduce re-offending realizing alternative aspirations and goals from a life of crime.
The project was initiated in 2006 by Junior Smart, a young ex gang member, who was sent to prison for a 10 year sentence. This experience persuaded him that he would help people in the same situation. He wanted to break the cycle of inmates being released and returning to prison over and over.
With support from St Giles Trust, a London charity that aims to reduce crime and social exclusion in the UK and operates in a number of prisons around the country, and an initial funding from Southwark Council, he set up the project. Having started to work specifically with young offenders from the London Borough of Southwark , the project has expanded since then to different London areas, as well as in Bristol and Portland in Dorset.
SOS is the first ever ex-offender led project in the UK, targeted to young people aged 15-30. Mentors offer support across a wide range of emotional and practical areas including help accessing housing, education, training and employment. A groundbreaking programme, it focuses on the individual, that is placed at the centre of the approach.
The programme is tailor made to suit the needs and meet the different challenges of every individual. It works holistically with all support networks, from Probation, to Social Services, to Criminal Justice System and also with the family, partner and friends of the ex offender.
Since its inception, SOS has proven to be very successful and has been seen as a best practice. The team have won several awards, including a centre for Social Justice Award in 2010. In 2009 Junior Smart was elected Fellow by Ashoka, the largest network of social entrepreneurs worldwide, in recognition to his scalable solution to a major social problem.
SOS Gangs Project has dramatically cut re-offending, with just less than 20% being recalled for further offences against the national average of 75%.
Junior Smart is not only changing individuals through his reintegration programme, but also communities, helping ex- offenders take on a positive role in society as role models rather than as gang members.