Opening doors and hearts for real change: The Bridge Project (with video)
The rates of recidivism for young offenders in Victoria are high. In 2005, 66% of young people released from prison went on to reoffend, increasing the likelihood that they would enter the adult prison system. Of the young people involved in the mentoring and employment initiative The Bridge Project, only 3% have gone on to reoffend.
The Bridge Project, run by the YMCA, is literally a bridge for young men transitioning between custody and life post-release, an often extremely difficult period where offenders are isolated and lack opportunity. In fact, 57% of people with a criminal record cannot find gainful employment.
The Bridge was the vision of graduates of the 2005 WCLP, who were motivated by learning about the juvenile justice world during their training. With their focus on creating a secure society, the graduates recognised they were in a position to create positive change for young people in trouble. As Matt Feutrill, the Chief Operating Officer of YMCA Victoria, describes: “Some people in our community don’t have the power and resources to make a difference themselves, like young people who have just got out of prison. But other people, people in positions of influence, can work together to overcome society’s problems outside of traditional government infrastructure.”
Through a network of funding and support from business, government and not-for-profit organisations including Leadership Victoria, The Bridge funds 4-month work placements for young people with companies such as Linfox, Visy Industries and MFB. More than 80% of these placements lead to full-time employment.
As well as education and training opportunities, The Bridge also matches young offenders with mentors. The mentor meets with them in the lead-up to their release and then continues to assist the young person in establishing independence and connections in the outside world.
Matt Feutrill identifies these young people as some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of society, “seemingly broken and easy to judge because of their pasts.” Yet The Bridge Project has proven that with mentoring and a support network, these young people can be productive members of society. The program creates opportunities for real change in a mentored environment through training and participation in the broader community and the working world. There are obvious financial benefits – the reduction of reoffending and incarceration costs, the increased productivity for industry – but the program also makes a genuine difference by boosting skills, worth, responsibility and purpose.