A GROUP of local youths were given a rare insight into prison life last week.
Participants in the Pathfinders programme were taken to HMP Shotts for a look behind the walls of the maximum-security facility.
The programme aims to deter youngsters from low-level offending through a variety of activities and experiences.
The boys, aged 12 to 15 and from Bellshill and surrounding areas, arrived at the base and were treated as prisoners would be.
This included being given an introduction by wardens, searched and issued with prison-branded clothes.
They were also given a tour of the facility and even got the chance to look inside a mock cell.
A highlight on the day for the boys was meeting three volunteer prisoners who gave first-hand accounts of life in prison.
The men - serving four, eight and 12-year sentences - urged the boys to think about the possible consequences their actions could have.
As well as talking openly about missing family and friends and the various hardships of being imprisoned, they also encouraged the youngsters to take up hobbies that would help them stay out of trouble.
Following their talks, the prisoners answered a number of questions from the local youngsters, covering their lives before being sentenced to their experiences of prison life.
The Pathfinder project is run by Strathclyde Police and North Lanarkshire Council, with local community officers as well as youth and social workers supporting it.
PC Alan Mulholland, Bellshill community safety officer, said: “Pathfinders is a partnership effort to steer young people who are either on the cusp of offending or have been involved in offending behaviour.
“We choose 10 young people from each of the localities within North Lanarkshire and deliver an intervention package which includes educating them on issues such as alcohol, drugs, smoking awareness, violence, gangs, knife crime and sectarianism.
“The outcomes are good as we have seen a 47 per cent reduction in youth-related complaints from the boys we worked with in 2011, and so far there is an 81 per cent reduction in offences from the group we are working with this year.”
He added: “Part of the restorative work being undertaken is to visit Shotts prison where the boys are spoken to by inmates there.
“This is a great experience for the young people as the inmates almost plead to them not to be involved in crime as this is why they are in prison.
“It is quite touching when you hear the prisoners talking about how remorseful they are.
“They discuss how sorry they are for the victims of any crime they were involved in and miss their families as they don’t see them very often at all due to restraints on visiting and telephone calls.
“All of the boys got a lot from the day and I am hopeful they will think twice before getting involved in any future criminal acts.”
The group left HMP Shotts reflecting on the experience and vowing to keep out of trouble.
Charles Cairns (15), of Viewpark, said: “I have learned a lot from Pathfinders. I stay away from trouble now and want to stick in at school to do well in the future.”