Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Jail Chefs Escape Reoffending Cycle

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Jail Chefs Escape Reoffending Cycle

Article excerpt

Charity restaurants provide training prior to release

The Clink charity runs a highly successful restaurant chain, staffed by students who are learning on the job. This in itself isn't unusual; most colleges offer a public-facing, authentic workplace environment in which to train. But this restaurant chain is not attached to a college group and these are not everyday students. They are prisoners, and the restaurants are located within, or adjacent to, prison walls.

The charity began eight years ago at HMP High Down, a category B men's prison in Surrey. Catering manager Alberto Crisci saw how engaged the prisoners who worked in the kitchens were. He also saw the skills that they developed during their time there. Yet there was still a cycle of prisoners being released, reoffending and returning to prison.

The reasons were clear; there was a distinct lack of formal qualifications, which made it almost impossible for them to gain employment. Concerned by this, Crisci convinced the governor of HMP High Down at the time to open the restaurant to the public. In partnership with City & Guilds, it developed a qualification framework to meet the prisoners' specific circumstances.

Now there are four multi-award-winning restaurants, training up to 155 prisoners at a time. The Clink Restaurant at HMP Cardiff is often rated on TripAdvisor as the best restaurant in Cardiff; in 2015 it was named the 10th best restaurant in the UK.

Outside it looks like a depressing industrial block, a stone's throw from the prison walls, next to the security gates.

Any concerns evaporate as soon as the door opens: elegant decor in neutral colours, a busy open kitchen and an array of waiters, smartly dressed in identical black trousers and dress shirts, hover discreetly. The only clues that this establishment is anything but a high-end eatery are the charity donation envelopes on the tables and the lack of female waiting staff. I am served by a confident and knowledgeable trainee who delivers beautiful food created by colleagues who work in the kitchen under the instruction of the head chef.

Professional qualifications

The prisoners working in the Cardiff restaurant are from a local category D open prison. They are taken on with a minimum of six months left to serve and a maximum of 18 months, with the breadth and the levels of qualifications in line with their time left inside. Each prisoner trains for 40 hours per week in a range of professional cookery and hospitality qualifications up to level 3.

Everything on the contemporary British menu is made from scratch, including pasta, bread and ice cream, with the majority of ingredients sourced locally. Other Clink projects have been developed from the charity's focus on sustainability. These include the Clink Gardens at the women's prison, HMP Send, in Surrey, where inmates cultivate fruit and vegetables for the kitchens with NVQs in horticulture attached. There are also chickens reared for eggs and 12 beehives in which honey is produced to use and sell at the restaurants.

Nationally, 45 per cent of all adult ex-offenders reoffend within the first year of release, according to figures from the Prison Reform Trust. This jumps to 58 per cent for those who serve a sentence of less than 12 months. But for graduates of The Clink's programme, the rate is currently just 12.5 per cent. So what makes this initiative so successful? …

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