We all know people who seem particularly credible in conversation because they have experienced first-hand what they are talking about. It also happens that certain messages – no matter how well chosen and well-intentioned the words – do not get through to the person they are meant for. In communication, it is not only the language that is important, but also who is speaking and who is listening. Especially when you are going through difficult phases in life, you are more likely to listen to the advice of someone who can empathize with what you are going through, who understands the problems you have to deal with in everyday life, and tells you from their own experience how they overcame them.
The mentoring project “Credible Messenger” draws its transformative potential from this fundamental insight. The name of the project comes from the USA, where this crime prevention approach was developed and has been successfully implemented for several decades. It means “credible mentor” and refers to people who can authentically convey certain contents due to their own background. Accordingly, this approach involves people who were themselves once delinquent and in prison, and who have already mastered the exit from crime, in the work with young people who are currently delinquent. Since the mentors also have similar socio-spatial and life-world experiences as their mentees, they can also positively influence those young people who are not reached or are only reached with great difficulty by classic crime prevention measures.
Although there is a well-functioning system of youth welfare in Germany that is characterized by the idea of education, a certain group of young people in particular social problem situations who repeatedly attract attention by committing criminal acts is only reached with difficulty by classical approaches. The human and social costs of delinquency are very high. The emotional and social consequences of criminal behavior sometimes accompany victims throughout their whole lives. The high recidivism rates of young people who have had one or more run-ins with the law therefore urgently call for innovative solutions in the field of prevention, intervention and resocialization. The conflicts of juvenile offenders usually arise in a problem-ridden social environment. In addition to the already difficult challenges of adolescence, young people in socially marginalized neighborhoods are often additionally burdened with stigmatizing external attributions, which promotes the development of a negative self-image.
If young people hear messages of this kind only often enough, they begin to adapt them for themselves and react with aggressive behavior and a basic “opposition culture” toward state institutions and measures that they attribute to the majority society. Young people desperately need to hear a positive message: They need to hear that they can give meaning to their own lives and that they have the opportunity to succeed. They need to hear that they are more than their worst mistakes, that the past does not have to determine their future, and that there are always more alternatives in life than people sometimes think. Above all, they need to know that it is possible to live a life where they can overcome their weaknesses, achieve their dreams, love their friends and families, and live in an environment that accepts them. Instead of being defined as a problem, they can be part of solutions and positive changes in society.
Solid reference persons, such as the credible mentors, can build a trusting relationship with these young people and convey these messages. By supporting and challenging them in their thoughts and actions, they are at the same time able to bring about change and create stability.
Youth offenders are supported by credible mentors to make life changes by reflecting together on negative attitudes and behaviors and replacing them with positive practices and healthy interpersonal relationships.
The mentors are given the opportunity of employment and are part of the Tatort Zukunft e. V. team. As part of the project, they also receive extensive further training and a certificate for the training units they have completed. By participating in the project, they perform a meaningful, responsible task. While their own past often acts as a stigma, here it becomes a resource to help other people and work on an important social problem.
Our network and the social environment of the young people are significantly involved in the project. Spatial, human and financial resources are used to help the young people shape an everyday life away from criminal activity and thus jointly develop realistic options for their future lives.
Our public relations work contributes to stimulating a paradigm shift in the field of criminal justice work. The goal is to make innovative approaches and their transformative potential visible. In doing so, we see ourselves as an addition to existing measures in the field of criminal and youth welfare.
Our long-term goal is to strengthen public safety by reducing recidivism rates and preventing future crimes.
First, a selection process is used to identify suitable candidates for the role of mentor. After selection, the mentors receive training in various pedagogical and social work skills. This comprises 100 hours of training and is conducted by various internal and external lecturers. This is intended to ensure that the mentors are as well prepared as possible for their work with delinquent youth. We pursue the goal of working together with other youth welfare professionals in a trusting and reliable manner.
Following the training, the mentors begin to provide concrete support and supervision for their mentees. The goal is, among other things, to build a resilient relationship between mentor and mentee. To this end, the mentors meet regularly with the young people for individual and group discussions to reflect, discuss practical challenges of everyday life, and develop realistic action strategies for a crime-free life. The project is based on low-threshold access and is free of charge for all young people. The mentors organize the support time individually with their mentee. In particular, our location in Hangar1 offers a variety of opportunities for leisure activities.
With our project idea, we won the “Prize for Social Innovation” of the “Society of Ideas” competition Gesellschaft der Ideen from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research in December 2020. This took us into the second round, the so-called “concept phase” of the competition. In this phase, the idea had to be developed into a concept in which in-depth questions about the project implementation were answered. In addition, scientific institutions had to be found as cooperation partners so that the implementation of the project can be evaluated in the subsequent “testing phase”. For this purpose, we were able to win Camino Camino as an independent research institution. Since January 2022, we are concretely in the process of putting the pilot project into practice. In the process, we have already been able to achieve numerous milestones (bitte mit Verlinkung auf Meilensteine weiter unten). Our goal is to have carried out a validated concept in the summer of 2023, which will enable a firm implementation in the structures of the criminal justice system.