Friday 1 December, 2017

Q&A with Baillie Aaron, Founder & CEO, Spark Inside


Baillie Aaron started Spark Inside in 2012, after previously founding a US charity teaching entrepreneurship to people in prison. She holds degrees from Harvard and Cambridge. Baillie qualified as a Life Coach in 2014 with the Coaches Training Institute. She was appointed a Ministry of Justice Policy Fellow in 2016 and was named a Global Shaper by the World Economic Forum.

What is the mission of Spark Inside?
Spark Inside runs coaching programmes in prisons that encourage rehabilitation and reduce reoffending. Through our two coaching programmes, we help make transformational changes in prisons and unlock the potential of people in prison to ultimately lead fulfilling lives. Our award-winning intervention, The Hero’s Journey, is a structured life coaching programme for young people aged 15 – 25 in prisons, while our systems coaching programme works with prison staff and prisoners together. Since 2012, we have worked with over 600 participants across 10 prisons, young offender institutions and secure training centres in London and the South East.

Are there any standout stories of how Spark Inside has contributed to the rehabilitation of a young person in prison?
It is very inspiring to work with young people in prison who, through the process of coaching, become determined to choose a different and more positive path for their futures. For example, when Jacob started The Hero’s Journey, he was 22 years old and had already been in prison twice. He initially had no intention of “going straight” (living a law-abiding life); his plan was to continue working in the illegal drug industry until he was 25, to earn the money to start his own business at 26. Through coaching, which is non-directive, Jacob realised that what he liked most about drugs was cooking them, and that this love of cooking existed for food too. Over time, his excitement for cooking began to outweigh his planned return to crime – and when Jacob was released from prison, he started a vegan Caribbean pop-up restaurant! For Jacob and many other young men, coaching shifted how they saw themselves and enabled them to realise new possibilities for their futures.

For more heart-warming stories of how coaching has enabled young people to transform their lives, click here.

What key changes in the criminal justice system are necessary to prevent young people from reoffending?
Young people leaving prison will become our neighbours. With a 76% rate of youth reoffending, and increasing levels of in-prison violence and self-harm, it’s clear that the current system isn’t working sufficiently well to ensure that young people leaving prison go on to live positive, crime-free lives. At Spark Inside, we believe that incremental shifts in our criminal justice system are not enough; rather, a full step change in the way that we approach rehabilitation is needed. For that reason, we have a big, and powerful vision: of a world without crime and without prisons.

To achieve that vision, the root causes of repeat offending need to be tackled, instead of treating the symptoms. There are several evidence-based programmes available that we know decrease reoffending and violence, including life coaching, although many of these programmes struggle to obtain government funding and are therefore limited in reach. The culture in prisons needs to be more conducive to rehabilitation, preparing prisoners for their release rather than simply punishing them. In addition, employers need to be open to giving people with convictions a second chance; having a job is one of the most important factors leading to sustainable desistance from crime, and as a community we need to be supportive of young people turning their lives around.

How has the Goldsmiths’ Company’s grant helped the efforts of Spark Inside in supporting young prisoners?
The Goldsmiths’ Company recognises the importance of rigorous evaluations to prove the impact of charitable programmes. The Goldsmiths’ Company grant has enabled us to capture our impact and evidence the power of coaching in prisons, by funding a vital role at Spark Inside dedicated to monitoring and evaluation. Our latest evaluations demonstrate our impact on reducing reoffending and encouraging rehabilitation. The Hero’s Journey evaluation showed statistically significant increases for young people across five outcome areas: their mental wellbeing; decision-making and problem-solving skills; empathy and emotional intelligence; resilience and confidence, and social experience all improved. This indicates our Hero’s Journey coaching programme has a strong, positive and holistic impact on young people in prison. Our Systems Coaching programme was shown to lead to an 81% increase in positive prisoner behaviour, as measured through positive entries on prisoners’ Incentives and Earned Privileges records. In addition, participating prison officers and prisoners reported a statistically significant increase in levels of empathy and their relationships. 

How do you see Spark Inside developing over the next few years?
Over the next few years, we aim to continue to positively impact on the lives of people living and working in prisons, through our transformational coaching programmes. We aim to do this through continuous, needs-driven innovation; achieving proof of concept for our models; and increasing the number of participants benefiting from our coaching programmes, both from direct work and through a social licensing model. In addition, we aim to raise awareness of coaching as an effective approach in prisons.

But like most other public sectors, criminal justice is faced with political instability and changing commissioning processes, which can lead to pauses in our programme delivery and limit access to coaching and other rehabilitative services for prisoners. We rely on grants, like those from the Goldsmiths’ Company, and the generosity of individual donors to help us continue to do our important work. Thank you to the Goldsmiths’ Company for your invaluable support and we look forward to keeping you posted on future developments!

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