The Switchback Programme

Through intensive 1-to-1 support and real work training, we enable young prison-leavers to build a stable, rewarding life

Switchback’s model is centred on a meaningful relationship between Switchback Mentor and Trainee, beginning in prison and lasting as long as it takes.

Real work training leading to a job after release is just one part of the Switchback process. We challenge and encourage our Trainees to take control and make real, lasting change: a fundamental shift in mindset and lifestyle.

This is new territory for most Trainees: a frank, non-judgemental relationship with someone who is there for them on a daily basis, helping to navigate the turbulent transition from prison to community.

In 2020, in rapid response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Switchback also launched our new Foundation for Stability programme: six weeks of intensive 1-to-1 support beginning immediately upon release. See below for more information.

“Switchback provide real hope for change and keeps itself very personal – it’s not about targets, it is genuinely about helping people, and for the young men I look after that is really important.”

Emily Thomas, Governor, HMP & YOI Isis

The three stage process

Our methods are careful and consistent, rolling with the ups and downs of real life. We challenge and encourage our Trainees to take control and build stability across all areas of life spanning 10 Switchback Pathways from housing to health.

Switchback supports 18-30 year olds returning to London. The form that our support takes varies with each Trainee but includes the same three core stages:

1. In Prison

An eligible prisoner meets regularly with his Switchback Mentor during his last three months inside to prepare practically and emotionally for release, building motivation to change and making a plan for the future.

2. In Training

The same Switchback Mentor meets him on the day of release. Real work training with a partner employer begins straight away, alongside 1-to-1 support to build stability across all areas of life. Trainees go on a range of new experiences, from employer visits to camping and surfing trips, to broaden horizons and open new opportunities.

3. In Work

The Trainee moves into sustainable work or further training at the right time for him, with a period of in-work support to ensure change is sustained long-term. The door is always open for Trainees to return.

NEW: Foundation for Stability programme

Developed in rapid response to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown of prisons, in 2020 Switchback launched our new Foundation for Stability programme: six weeks of intensive 1-to-1 support post-release, enabling young prison leavers to build a solid foundation for a stable life away from crime.

At a time when the barriers facing prison-leavers are higher than ever, Switchback’s Foundation for Stability programme supports 18-30 year olds in London to successfully navigate the turbulent transition from prison to community – and begin the path towards real, lasting change.

The Foundation for Stability programme is centred on a meaningful relationship between Switchback Trainee and a dedicated, highly skilled practitioner, beginning immediately after release. The intensive six-week programme of 1-to-1 support combines:

Therapeutic mentoring to support mental health, wellbeing & motivation.

Systems navigation and practical help to get things sorted like housing, benefits, ID, CVs and access to training and jobs.

Subsistence support to ensure the basic means for survival, including supermarket vouchers, travelcards and phone credit.

The 10 Switchback Pathways

We encourage and challenge Trainees across all areas of their lives. We’ve broken these areas down into the 10 Switchback Pathways shown in the diagram below.

As each Trainee progresses through the programme, we record specific achievements and changes in stability under each Pathway. This whole-person approach means that when Trainees enter work or housing, they have the stability to stay there long-term through the ups and downs.

Real Work Training

We work with a small group of fantastic real work training partners where Switchback Trainees begin training two days per week immediately after their release from prison. These are businesses who provide a supportive, inspiring environment in which Trainees can build skills, confidence and routine.

Nearly half of Switchback Trainees have never worked before. Training in a real work environment, underpinned by continuous 1-to-1 support from their Switchback Mentor, provides a vital ‘buffer zone’ in which to learn from mistakes and develop the skills and resilience needed to sustain work. Our current real work training partners are:

Dusty Knuckle Bakery

The Dusty Knuckle Bakery is social enterprise in Dalston, London, making beautiful bread and delicious things with great care and obsessive energy.

Café From Crisis

Café From Crisis is a training café and social enterprise in the heart of Spitalfields, working to end homelessness through practical hospitality and catering training.

Kitchenette Karts

Kitchenette Karts is a street food truck with a difference: a social enterprise that serves seasonal Vietnamese street food in Spitalfields Market, East London.

Training in the cafe after prison meant I kept busy, so I didn’t fall back into something else. I got really into making coffee and I love working now.

I never thought I would be able to say that but I just love it!”

James, Barista and former Switchback Trainee

Who are Switchback Mentors?

Switchback Mentors are not volunteers. They are full-time, paid and highly skilled. They each work with a small caseload and they must be willing to become the most important person in a Trainee’s life whilst also working towards that no longer being the case.

A Switchback Mentor is in touch with a Trainee daily; anything from a quick chat to several hours talking through a single issue. One of these meetings every week is an Action Planning session. A Switchback Mentor helps a Trainee learn how to make the right choices, be reliable, get the help he needs and work towards his goals.

There’s not really one word to describe the relationship with my Switchback Mentor. She’s someone you’re close to but who is outside your peer group; someone non-judgmental who understands you.

I never had someone like that in my life before. She helped me find the answers for myself.”

Ahmed, Switchback Trainee

Our Impact

Switchback has supported more than 2,000 young men on their journey out of the justice system and towards real, lasting change.

Switchback sets the bar higher than reducing reoffending or starting work.

We support Switchback Trainees to build a stable, rewarding life. This is real, lasting change: a total shift in how Trainees think about and participate in society.


of Switchback Trainees reach our benchmark of Real, Lasting Change: a fundamental shift in mindset and lifestyle.


of Switchback Trainees progress from ‘unstable’ to ‘stable’ in at least two areas of their life based on the 10 Switchback Pathways ranging from housing to health.


of Switchback Trainees move into long-term work, education or training. This compares to only 12% of prison-leavers nationally who are in work six months after release.


of Switchback Trainees do not reoffend within a year of release. Nationally, 45% of prison-leavers reoffend within a year of release – for Switchback Trainees, the figure is just 9%.

"I don’t know where I’d be without Switchback. They restored a lot of things. My faith, my trust, my mentality. You’re allowed to open up at a rate that works for you. You’re a person, not a plan.

There’s so much to look forward to now. I used to see the world in a totally different light. I used to see it in black and grey, now I see it in colours."

Michael, Chef and former Switchback Trainee
Since 2008 Switchback has supported over 2,500 young Londoners to live life differently:


young men have become Switchback Trainees, with intensive 1-to-1 support through the gate and real work training after release


young men supported in prison with up to three months of 1-to-1 sessions to prepare practically and emotionally for release


Longford Prize 2019


Charity of the Year 2019, Charity Times Awards


Outstanding Organisation 2017, Criminal Justice Alliance Awards


Robin Corbett Award for Prisoner Re-Integration 2016

“I was totally closed off before. But speaking with my Switchback Mentor created that trust, that bond.

I can talk to her about anything, I know she’s not going to judge me. If I didn’t take that step to come to Switchback I’d probably be back inside.”

Raihan, Hotel Receptionist and former Switchback Trainee

Influencing and Policy

Inspiring change across the system

After a decade of successfully supporting young men to find a way out of the justice system, we are using our 10 years of evidence, data and experience to inspire more human, more effective policy and practice across the justice system and beyond.
Check out our latest campaign, Reshape Release:
Join our campaign

More human, more effective policy and practice

Young men in the justice system are facing more barriers to success than we have seen before: violent and chaotic prisons, a fractured probation system and disjointed welfare, health and housing services. Too many people leaving prison return to crime due to a lack of consistent support, and too often our Trainees succeed in spite of the system rather than because of it.

We know the power of a local, relationship-centred approach and its potential to transform outcomes for people across the system. So after a decade of successfully supporting young men to find a way out of the justice system, we are using our 10 years of evidence, data and experience to inspire more human, more effective policy and practice across criminal justice and beyond.

We know we can’t change the system alone, so we are actively working with others to share our evidence and build a constructive alternative that gives everyone a real chance to change.

See our latest campaign, Reshape Release, for an insight into the changes in the system we want to see, and get in touch to join us and ensure that everyone can live a stable, rewarding life they can be proud of.

Switchback's Experts by Experience

Switchback’s most important value is keeping Trainees at the heart of everything we do, so our Experts by Experience Board is central to our influencing work. This group of current and former Switchback Trainees meets regularly and ensures that our policy activity is rooted in the real lives and experiences of those who understand the impact of the system best: the experts by experience.

The transition from prison back into the community is so often when the system fails. Switchback is a focussed, inspiring resettlement charity that is a beacon of hope at a time when centrally-funded alternatives are in chaos.”

Longford Prize judges’ citation, 2019

“A lot of us have friends who are still in the system.
We’re trying to change the system to help our friends.
We’re trying to make a difference for them.”

Pellum, Switchback Expert by Experience

Training and Consultancy

We share what we know works through training, visits and consultancy for organisations and individuals.

Training for practitioners

We deliver creative training programmes for organisations and practitioners working with people in the justice system, or with others facing multiple and complex needs. Sessions are often co-designed and delivered with our Experts by Experience. To find out more please download our training pack below. Email or call 0207 650 8989 to discuss your requirements.


We host visits and consult for organisations and services interested in learning from our model and implementing our ways of working elsewhere. To find out more please email or call 0207 650 8989 to discuss your requirements.

Teams from other prisons would definitely benefit. More of this kind of training would help me to support and encourage the clients that I work with. It would also help to give them a positive outlook on life after prison.

Resettlement Co-ordinator, Community Rehabilitation Company

The prison officers really enjoyed it and have said they will use things they learnt in their roles as keyworkers, especially the ‘stretch zone’ tools and techniques.

Head of Learning and Skills, HMP/YOI Isis

It was striking to see the extent to which the Switchback Mentors apply the model in every engagement with Trainees. The materials used clearly enable Trainees to engage fully in developing their own journey. I found the two days – and your colleagues - genuinely inspirational.

Richard Good, Director, The Turnaround Project