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How ‘kindness, support and solace’ is helping to turn lives around in Devon and Cornwall

Pictured: Pathfinder team won a prestigious Howard League award


The story of how a drug user turned his life around after police referred him to an award-winning scheme will be among those heard by criminal justice experts in Devon today.

The young man is now training to be a football coach with Exeter City Community Trust after he was helped by his keyworker on the Pathfinder initiative.

It offers offenders a four-month contract to reduce harm, secure justice for the victim, and reduce reoffending as an alternative to accepting a caution. It also encourages participants to volunteer for good causes in their communities and promotes restorative justice.

In recent months participants have volunteered for activities including beach cleans and helped disabled children’s groups.

Last year the innovative scheme won a community award from the Howard League for Penal Reform. Part of the prize was support for a conference which will be held at Plymouth’s Crown Plaza today (July 18).

Among key speakers at Changing the Focus: Prevention, Policing and Partnerships seminar is Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League.

“Our community awards celebrate successful projects and pioneers who guide people away from crime and make us all safer,” she said. 

“Only the very best schemes in the UK are honoured each year, and Devon and Cornwall’s Pathfinder Project was the standout entry in our adult category. The project was recognised for its innovative work and long-term interventions. Pathfinder is an excellent diversionary project and provides a good model of partnership in action.”

A message to the Pathfinder team from a female participant will be shared at the event. She said: “A few months ago I was isolated from my loved ones, on a downward spiral of abusive relationships and homelessness.

“I did not expect the police to understand nor did I expect such kindness, support and solace. Things are better and I’m rebuilding my life.”

Pathfinder was put in place due to funding secured by Alison Hernandez, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

“This scheme is not about offering a soft option,” she said. “In fact, going on a Pathfinder course is arguably a more difficult option because they are challenged head-on about their lifestyles and behaviour.

“It does mean, however, that those who might have made a mistake are given the opportunity to avoid a criminal record and to make really positive changes. That’s better for them and the victim, who is kept informed and consulted throughout.

“It ultimately reduces crime - therefore pressure on emergency services, so we all win.”

Pathfinder manager Sarah Carlsen-Browne said: “This scheme is about reducing harm in communities, the participants have undertaken many hours of voluntary work, where they learn for the benefit of the community, such as volunteering at food banks, helping disabled children and beach cleans, so they understand their capacity for good as opposed to harm.”

The conference will also be told about work to reduce the impact of trauma. Adverse Childhood Experiences (Aces) have been shown to increase a person’s likelihood of being unemployed, involved in substance abuse and crime.

Superintendent Jim Gale, of Devon and Cornwall Police, said: “The PCC’s police and crime plan places people and victims at its heart and Pathfinder is an example of that plan in action.

“Allowing certain people who have made a mistake to have the opportunity to address the issues that might have led to their offending, unencumbered by a criminal record, can have a profound and positive effect on them.”