SPECIAL units set up across the Durham Constabulary force area to work with offenders causing the most harm to local communities are celebrating record results in reducing re-offending.

Welcoming the latest statistics, Durham Tees Valley Probation Trust’s director of offender services Carina Carey said: “We have confirmed we have reduced re-offending in County Durham, under the Castle Project, by 58 per in the last year.

“And there has been a 64 per cent reduction in reoffending, as a result of the Change Track Project in Darlington."

Together, the two Integrated Offender Management (IOM) units have managed more than 250 of the most persistent offenders over the last year.

Targeted for committing a range of “acquisitive crimes”, from burglary to theft, offenders are offered the choice to change their lifestyle and reduce their offending – or be subject to regular and robust enforcement.

The partnerships are made up of representatives from the police, Probation Service, drugs and alcohol teams, youth offending teams, Durham County Council and Darlington Borough housing officers, the prison service and the charity Foundation.

Durham Constabulary’s head of crime Detective Chief Superintendent Jane Spraggon said: “We came together in 2007 as partner agencies to challenge how we could really make a difference.

“This was because we were getting better at catching and convicting people, but the same people were coming back round again – and causing us the greatest harm.”

She added: “What we need to do is to support offenders to change. This isn’t about being soft on crime, it is not an easy option.

“It is a very tough journey for offenders to go through and it does make a difference.”

DCS Spraggon said: “We have also used this to make a difference to victims of crime.

“By working with offenders (as part of restorative justice) they get an opportunity to get some closure to the crime and it helps the offender to face up to what they have done.”

The IOM units help out with accommodation needs, help offenders beat drug and alcohol dependence, help meet their mental health needs and to get the right support financially.

They also provide volunteer work and help them meet their education needs.

CASE STUDY: A MAN who was jailed after confronting the wife of a prominent North-East clergyman while raiding their home has described how he turned his life around. 

David Clark, 30, met Jenny Sadgrove, wife of the Dean of Durham, the Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove, in Durham Prison, as part of a restorative justice programme, months after he sneaked into the Deanery, alongside Durham Cathedral.

He said: “For me victim was just a word, before I took part in restorative justice.

“Putting a face to the word victim and hearing her explaining what an impact me burgling her house had on her...

“What shocked me was how caring the victim was. All she wanted to do was help me and know what support I had.

“I never thought people cared for me. It was a big eye-opener for me. It played a big part in stopping me from re-offending.”

He added: “Three months after my release from prison I did start using heroin again.

“But because of the restorative justice programme I didn’t go out and commit crime to fund the habit.

“I took methadone and stayed in the house feeling ill.”

Mr Clark, who fell into a spiral of drug taking as a teenager, said he has been clean of all drugs for 30 days and is in the Recovery Academy in Peterlee.

He said: “The day before I went in I saw my mother and father for the first time.

“It was the first time we had spoken in five years, which is another positive thing.

“This is the starting point of the rest of my life.”

CASE STUDY: Mark Blackburn, 40, who became a repeat offender after falling into a life of heroin addiction described how an integrated offender management unit had helped him begin a new life.

He said: “I had been a heroin addict for 14 years and had been in dark places committing crime and going in and out of prison.

“As an addict, you never think about your victims. You become a very selfish person and don’t love yourself.

“At times in prison, I was so low I tried to commit suicide.

“During my last prison sentence I was 39 years old and sat back and thought and looked back at my life and how the victims of my crime must be feeling.

“It thought this is not me any more. I want to be a father to my son.”

On his release, Mr Blackburn was put in supported accommodation, where he learned how to make garden furniture.

He said: “I learned a trade with support from the charity Foundation. I value it so much. Without support it would have been so tough.”

Mr Blackburn is due to start a horticulture and landscape gardening course in May and will be given a job placement after that.

He said: “My plan is to work with someone for a while to see how a business runs and go forward and set my own business up.

“To be clean now and to have all these feelings back is amazing. It is so nice to have plans and goals for the future.

“To see my son and to see the happiness in his face that his dad is doing well. It is so nice.”