Breaking Out

Location: HMYOI Polmont, Scotland
Demographic: young offenders aged 16-21
Delivery setting: young offenders institute
Years active: 2012 – present
Contact email:
Keywords: alcohol; youth; peer education; communities; Scotland

Theory of Change for Breaking Out:

  • Breaking Out is a peer education-based alcohol awareness programme for young offenders in custody.
  • This increases their knowledge of risks associated with substance misuse and builds their skills to achieve their personal development plan.
  • In the longer-term this aims to reduce re-offending rates and enable the young people to fulfil their potential and contribute positively to society.


A project to support young offenders

Breaking Out was launched in June 2012 with the aim of reducing risky behaviours and harms caused by alcohol amongst young offenders. We are supporting offenders at Her Majesty’s Young Offenders Institution Polmont to develop their own initiatives, by providing a rolling 12-week programme of training focusing on peer education, alcohol issues and personal development. It builds on Mentor’s previous peer education projects.

Participants who complete the training are invited to join a development group. The role of this group is to develop peer education and mentoring as a model of addressing alcohol and offending behaviour. Participation gives young offenders the opportunity to develop their knowledge, skills and resilience to alcohol, risk taking and offending behaviour.

The project will also introduce the Youth Achievement Awards as a means of providing a recognised form of accreditation for those young offenders who join the project as peer educators.

Breaking Out will continue to develop prevention based alcohol education using a peer education model over the next two years thanks to continued funding from Comic Relief, The Gannochy Trust, and The Robertson Trust.

Aims and objectives

The overall long term aim of the project is to reduce offending behaviour and harm caused by alcohol misuse by providing a sustainable peer led programme. This will enhance and improve practical and personal development skills and reduce risk taking behaviour for young people within HMP Polmont YOI.

To meet the overall aim, the project wishes to:

  • increase the skill, knowledge, and experience of peer educators
  • increase awareness of alcohol and drug misuse and its impact on behaviour
  • increase awareness of risk, personal safety and healthy lifestyle choices
  • increase self confidence and self esteem
  • increase future ambitions and opportunities for positive lifestyles
  • increase re-engagement of educators with education, training, volunteering or employment
  • promote peer education as an effective model for engaging young people in their own health and social development

The project will run four training programmes per year with 12 participants per programme. Young offenders who complete the training programme will be encouraged to join a development group. This group will be responsible for ensuring that peer educators have a chance to use their skills with a wide variety of agencies and services operating within Polmont. The group will also be responsible for the development of new and needs led alcohol initiatives, including ownership and delivery of the peer education programmes.

It is our aim to develop the peer education model as a sustainable tool that is run by, with, and for young offenders. The learning gained from this pilot project will be evaluated and a tool kit will be produced so that it may be replicated in other establishments.

Why Breaking Out?

Alcohol problems are a major and growing public health problem in Scotland

The relationship between alcohol and crime, in particular violent crime, is widely acknowledged. This affects individuals, families, the health and emergency services, and wider society; and current policy endorses a strategic approach to enhancing the detection, early intervention, treatment and support for alcohol problems across Scotland, as well as efforts to reduce re-offending.

Young male offenders report that alcohol contributes to their offending

According to the McKinlay Report Alcohol and Violence Among Young Male Offenders in Scotland, almost 80% of offenders interviewed said that alcohol had contributed to their offending. McKinlay highlights the need for interventions tailored to ‘hazardous’ or ‘harmful’ drinkers.

HM YOI Polmont

Polmont is Scotland’s national holding facility for male offenders aged between 16 – 21 years, the largest such institution in Britain.

Polmont prisoner surveys report that 78% were drunk at the time of their offence. More than half say that alcohol has a major impact on their family relationships, the ability to hold down a job (30%) and the risk of having an alcohol problem upon release (27%).

More than half of prisoners said they were under the influence of drugs at the time of their offence, but less than third say they received alcohol support or treatment; only 23% said they received support for drugs whilst serving their sentence.

The prison has a duty to provide access to treatment and rehabilitation services and to adopt a multi- disciplinary approach to substance misuse services including peer led approaches. Mentor has developed this programme with the support of key staff and prisoners.

Peer education

Staff and young offenders agreed that a peer model approach would provide a fresh approach to examining links between offending and alcohol/drug misuse.  Young offenders  felt that hearing the experiences of others could have more of an impact rather than simply learning about the health effects of alcohol. Many admitted that they used alcohol to forget their problems, so Breaking Out, which focuses on problem solving, could break this cycle.

Working alongside others

We held discussions with Alcohol & Drug Partnerships across Scotland, all of whom had a significant number of young men placed within Polmont.  Each area was committed to providing focused services for the young men who may be returning to their catchment upon release. All were keen to take part in a systematic and coordinated approach.

During the development of Breaking Out, we’ve built strong partnerships with SACRO, APEX, Access to Industry, Barnardo’s, Caledonia Youth, Includem, Fast Forward, Moving on Renfrewshire and SCYD, to offer a comprehensive service to all young people. The Care and Justice Division of the Scottish Government are also keen to be kept updated.

Building on success: The Bottle Project

As a result of the success of Breaking Out, a new project has been developed to further expand peer-led alcohol education among young people in Scotland.

Mentor reached over two hundred young offenders in Her Majesty’s Young Offenders Institution in Polmont over the past four years through Breaking Out – Mentor now seeks to bring this learning to community settings across south Edinburgh, positively influencing young people before alcohol-related and offending behaviours develop.