South Asian Offenders Service (SHAFA), a pioneering West Yorkshire project, working in partnership with West Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC), is reducing re-offending rates among Muslim men who have committed crimes
Led by mental health charity Touchstone, which works with BME communities across West Yorkshire, the SHAFA service supports offenders from South Asian communities who are leaving prison. A recent review of the service, which has helped more than 350 offenders since it was set up in 2015, found that after three months of completing work with SHAFA, 95% of those supported had not gone on to commit further crimes.
Funded by West Yorkshire CRC, part of Interserve Justice, the largest provider of probation and rehabilitation services in England and Wales, all the staff employed by SHAFA are from local South Asian communities themselves.
Qamar Zaman, who runs the service, says: “I do not think there is another service like SHAFA in the UK, which deals specifically with Pakistani Muslim males. Probation officers we work with have told us that we are able to challenge in a way they could not, and we have made a huge difference to the way they work. Our local intelligence and knowledge about what goes on in South Asian communities is invaluable.
“As well as working with individuals we carry out work with some of the families of our service users. This may be prior to prison release to update and inform the family of conditions imposed on their relative. We also educate non-Muslim probation officers around Muslim culture and religious beliefs.”
SHAFA operates from the offices of West Yorkshire CRC throughout West Yorkshire, with the majority of work focussed in Halifax and Bradford – the service’s busiest and culturally diverse office.
Offenders referred to the service will have committed crimes that include domestic violence, drug or alcohol abuse and where there are extremism concerns.
“As our staff are from the same communities we can confront cultural myths and stigma head on,” comments engagement worker Ijaz Khan, who is a member of the frontline team delivering the service.
“The key to success is that as well as having local intelligence, and understanding service users’ mindsets and culture, we have more time for intensive work than their probation case workers. However, co-working with the CRC Probation Officers is critical to reduce reoffending and harm to others.
“For many of our service users, it is the first time they have entered the criminal justice system – and it can be daunting and frightening. Being able to access support from someone who understands their culture and language means they are more compliant and able to understand the actual requirements of their orders.
“Former offenders have eight hours over four sessions with us, and we have the flexibility to offer four more hours if needed. The compliance rate is in the high 90s – meaning they’re engaged, turning up and on time – which can often be difficult when they have chaotic lives.”
Martin Davies, chief executive of West Yorkshire CRC, said: “SHAFA have played an important role in how we engage with members of the South Asian community who are on probation and their success rate for rehabilitation should be applauded. West Yorkshire CRC works with a number of social enterprises to ensure that we deliver a service that protects the public while stopping people from re-offending.”
SHAFA has two full time and one part time member of staff – all of whom are from South Asian backgrounds and whose combined experience of working in and around the probation service spans more than 50 years. It also employs a peer mentor with lived experience who assists the team when they carry out group work interventions.
Although most service users are from Muslim communities, SHAFA has also worked with Sikhs (due to cultural crossovers), Iraqi/Kurds (due to religious crossover) and female Muslim service users. A female colleague with lived experience of the criminal justice system assists the team when they have South Asian female referrals.