EUGENIA RUSSELL explores how meaningful employment can be created for prisoners and ex-offenders (Morning Star 23/10/21)
THERE are not many businesses that employ prisoners in a meaningful way, but those that do deserve to be known about and supported by the public.
A prime example is The Clink charity, which equips prisoners with catering skills that will stand them in good stead in the future.
Another is retail specialist Timpson, a long-term champion of excellent working conditions for its staff, which also owns the photography labs Snappy Snaps and Max Spielmann.
The Clink charity runs five high-quality restaurants within working prisons: Brixton, Car- diff, High Down, Styal and Manchester.
The flagship restaurant operates at HM Prison Brixton. They also have an online shop and a delivery service called Clink@ Home.
Prisoners gain City and Guilds national vocational qualifications while training for up to 40 hours per week.
Fresh fruit, vegetables and eggs are delivered to the restaurants from their own prison- run gardens.
The leather upholstery for several of the restaurants is made in HMP Frankland.
A poetry book written by the trainees is sold in the online shop, which also offers cook- books and delicious preserves.
Trainees have one of the lowest reoffending rates in the UK. The founder of the charity, Alberto Crisci MBE, catering manager at HMP High Down, Surrey, opened the first restaurant in 2009.
The Clink training programme is becoming one of the most effective ways for men and women to gain experience while in prison; upon release they can enter the hospitality industry with confidence and hope.
Businesses can show their support by booking event catering from the charity.
Previous reports have praised the initiative for helping prisoners make the transition into gainful employment. A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice talking to the BBC in 2019 has called it a “unique opportunity to work in a professional restaurant.”
Now with labour shortages in many areas of our economy, the government has the chance to expand on such opportunities so that they are not isolated and “unique” gems envisaged by individuals and pursued in isolation.
This is an opportunity to take Crisci’s vision further and make other such initiatives possible with government backing.
In recent weeks there has been talk of many of the most vulnerable in our society filling vacancies: prisoners, asylum- seekers, temporary workers from abroad.
It is important that these people’s skills and energy are appreciated for themselves and not as a stop gap for an ill-functioning system that ultimately neglects the needs of those who service it.
One company renowned for its pioneering work with former prisoners is the family-owned business Timpson.
As they state on their web- site: “Being fearful of hiring people with difficult backgrounds is a dated and loss-making concept. We wouldn’t be the biggest and best in our field without them.”
Over 10 per cent of staff are ex-offenders and Timpson’s run pre-release schemes in many prisons through their own training academies.
One employee interviewed by The Guardian had applied for nearly 70 different jobs before landing a job with Timpson, initially on day release, finding in Timpson’s a company where “the support never stops.”
The company was applauded in a parliamentary paper in 2016 for helping change the attitudes of employers towards ex-offenders.
To help secure the future of job applicants, however, more needs to be done.
James Timpson, whose great-great-grandfather founded the business, originally a shoe shop in Manchester (1865), believes that a national insurance break if granted by the government would encourage more employers to take prisoners onto their workforce.
To date, this has not happened. Timpson was recognised with the award of an OBE in 2011 for his “services to training and employment for disadvantaged people.”
His ambitious plans include the foundation of a private university awarding degree-level qualifications to Timpson staff, including prisoners.