Ex-offenders have been turning their hand to gardening as part of a project to transform their lives.
As part of Hertfordshire Police’s Integrated Offender Management Scheme, the individuals attend a nursery two days a week to learn horticulture, make items for sale and carry out general grounds maintenance.
The ex-offenders, who have been released from prison following a variety of offences including burglary and theft, are also working towards a City and Guilds Award in horticulture and it is hoped that instilling a work ethos will encourage them to find full time employment and turn away from crime.
Some of the group have recently found full time work in grounds maintenance, including 20-year-old Will from Watford who served a sentence for assault.
He said: “When I was in prison, they came to speak to me and offered me to join the project. I wanted to change. It was different at first but I got used to it. After my license ran out I wanted to stay on. I loved it that much.
“It kept me out of trouble as I was doing a day's work. It gives you something to do in in your spare time. I was always early because I wanted to be there as it is brilliant.
“After the hard work, I’ve got a proper job looking after parks and cemeteries. It’s a full time job for six months to begin with, but I’m hoping they will make me permanent.
“I would encourage others to do this. My mates are on it and I have encouraged them. I tell them ‘if you want to keep going to jail it’s your choice. It’s time to grow and up and think about getting money.’ I feel so proud that I now have a job. Wearing the uniform makes you feel official and waking up at 6.30am makes you feel like you have a purpose. It’s about changing how you live.”
Detective Inspector Craig Flint, from Hertfordshire Constabulary’s Offender Management Unit, said that most candidates selected for the project have committed acquisitive crimes and may have been in prison several times.
“As part of their rehabilitation we look at the underlying reasons for their offending and will help them access a range of services, including drug and alcohol support, to combat their issues once and for all so they can lead crime-free lives,” he said.
“Digswell Nursery has deep roots in the community and holds regular sessions for children and adults with learning difficulties. The offenders have been integrating really well with this group and have developed their interpersonal skills as a result.
“It is testament to those involved in the project, and the help and encouragement from the nursery, that the offenders are going on to find full time employment.”
Hertfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner, David Lloyd said he was ‘delighted’ to hear the project was having a positive impact.
“This is an excellent project which will reduce reoffending and reduce crime. As part of my plan for Hertfordshire I pledged to put rehabilitation of offenders at the forefront, ensuring they pay back their wrong-doings to the benefit of the community and take on schemes which will help them to turn away from crime.”