There are approximately 10 million people in the UK with a criminal conviction. The prison system in England is often unsuccessful – 50% of all released prisoners reoffend within the year, a statistic that costs the tax-payer approximately £11 billion annually.
To successfully reintegrate into society, ex-offenders require autonomy, support and financial stability. However, many struggle to find suitable employment following their sentence. According to a 2016 survey from the Department for Work and Pensions, half of employers would not consider hiring an ex-offender, regardless of their crime. Discrimination towards ex-offenders in the job market means that they remain a largely untapped resource. Only a slim number of employers – notably Timpsons and Virgin Trains – actively visit prisons to identify potential employees.
One of the proven solutions to tackle high reoffending rates is entrepreneurship. A report by the Centre for Entrepreneurs proposed that prisons prepare their inmates to lead a business upon release. LJ Flanders, the man behind the Cell Workout books, is used as a prime example of ex-offender’s aptitude for enterprise.
Unlike traditional employment, entrepreneurship enables ex-offenders to pursue opportunities best suited to their skills while offering a flexible environment to reintegrate. At a time where self-employment is transforming the nature of work, ex-offenders often lead social projects that also create opportunities for their former inmates.
From charities combating knife crime to bakeries serving homemade pasties, there are several positive initiatives across Greater Manchester which are led by ex-offenders. The projects focus on challenging public perceptions and creating second chances to reduce the rate of reoffending.
WIth their own social enterprise projects, Groundwork in Greater Manchester provide jobs with fixed term contracts for people recently released from prison. After initially creating jobs in the land and construction sector, Groundwork have also supported Lee Wakeham to establish his catering business HMPasties.
“It is eight times more difficult to get a job if you have a criminal record, but having a job is one of the key factors in reducing re-offending rates,” Venetia Knight, Head of Employment & Enterprise at Groundwork in Greater Manchester, said.
“Many people that have been involved with the criminal justice system need additional wrap-around support in the first few months of work to help them stabilise and develop the consistent behaviours that employers need in the long term.”
“Our solution has been to provide jobs solely for people with criminal convictions, with our programmes led by people with shared lived experience who have built successful working lives.”
HMPasties is headed by Lee Wakeham, an ex-offender and Groundwork Employment Coach who finished his stint in prison determined to turn his life around. Producing pasties using ingredients sourced from prison farms, HMPasties employ ex-offenders fresh out of custody, giving them the skills and mentoring to build a life on the outside.
“There are genuine opportunities for [ex-offenders] to get work in an industry that has got a genuine skills shortage,” Wakeham told the MEN.
HMPasties is not the only initiative using food and drink to break the reoffending cycle. The catering industry has inspired a number of post-prison rehabilitation schemes, including Gordon Ramsay’s Bad Boys Bakery and The Clink Charity.
Set in a Grade II listed building, The Clink Cafe was launched last year by The Clink Charity, who run restaurants in prisons such as HMP Styal. Serving everything from eggs benedict to salad bowls, the cafe provides jobs and further training for ex-offenders who have graduated from catering programmes inside prison.
“We have successfully completed training of seven separate qualifications across our learners in the last 12 months, including City & Guilds NVQ’s in Food and Beverage services,” Jenny Thomas, General Manager of the Clink Cafe, said.
“We provide realistic work-based training which allows individuals to gain qualifications while developing the confidence and experience of working in hospitality.”
The Clink have partnered with local homelessness charity Centrepoint to work with young homeless adults and develop the skills required to keep them off the streets.
“We have found that by working closely with the public, we are able to break down the preconceptions people may have surrounding offenders which allows our learners to realise there is a future after prison,” Thomas said.
As a graduate of the Clink programme, Emily is now earning a salary as a catering assistant at the Manchester cafe.
“I began working at the Clink in Styal Prison two years ago and it has changed my life,” she said. “It gave purpose to my days while I was in prison and I worked towards my NVQ food and beverage qualification.”
After her release, the Clink helped Emily find a job in hospitality and the charity continue to offer their support beyond the prison gates. Since their launch, the Clink Charity have reduced the chance of their graduates reoffending by almost 50%.
“I love my job,” Emily said. “I have massively grown in confidence and I am currently training towards an NVQ cookery qualification.”
Dean Lynch is a project manager at Trafford charity Challenge 4 Change, responsible for their ‘Teams not Gangs’ and ‘Teammates not Inmates’ programmes.
He was introduced to Chris Whiteley, founder of C4C, during his time mentoring others in prison. While still serving his last sentence, Lynch began attending the activity centre on day release before receiving a full-time role.
“We were both trying to achieve the same outcomes of getting young people away from that life,” Lynch said. ‘“At Challenge 4 Change, we are all about people – pulling out their positive sides and tackling their negative attributes.”
‘Teammates not Inmates’ aims to prevent young people from becoming involved in knife crime. The centre has a mock-up prison cell which gives visitors a realistic experience of life inside.
“You need to be motivated for the right reasons – I woke up one day in jail and I didnt want young people to feel how I did or go through the same situation as me growing up,” Lynch said. “That is literally the single reason I do the work I do.”
Of course, not all ex-offenders will be natural leaders but social enterprise projects are a crucial step to reduce reoffending and improve positive reintegration.