Would you ever let an inmate serve you a coffee or a cake? If it’s on the bucket list, then Norwich Prison has just the thing for you, because in conjunction with a group of local businesses, they recently opened a Café to the public, and staffed by the inmates.
It’s all about reducing the number of prisoners that end up back behind bars. The most recent re-offender statistics from last year said that around half of all prisoners serving custodial sentences of less than four years re-offend. But with nothing to stop them changing their ways, it’s just a vicious cycle. HMP Norwich is trying to break that cycle and, in doing so, provide a useful service to Norwich residents and improve the lives of inmates, giving them a better chance of staying on the right side of the law.
Is Norwich at the forefront of prisoner reintegration? Sadly not, though what they have created is a novel twist on an already well used formula. Three prisons have previously opened The Clink restaurants, offering a sit down meal prepared and served by inmates, and Gordon Ramsay has created a fully functioning bakery in HMP Brixton, whose products now get stocked in Café Nero.
So, it’s not new… But does that make it a good idea? What if the master plan backfires? Fear not! It has been statistically proven that inmates who get into some sort of employment are significantly less likely to offend again. Of course, as any student knows, one of the best ways to get a job is to gain qualifications – and that is exactly what the café aims to do – train the staff it employs, all of whom volunteer for the scheme.
As for the training, any tax-payer may wonder why their money is being spent on training prisoners. Well, we would hazard a guess that it’s a bit cheaper to train them for a short period of time, so they can start contributing to society, than it is to house them for a prolonged period of time.
No one wants people to end up living a life of crime. This gives the inmates a chance to start integrating with the public in the Café, while also earning qualifications that they can use in the future to secure employment. Indeed some inmates have already secured job offers for when they leave.
So, I go back to the original question: Would you ever let an inmate serve you a coffee or a cake? Students and prisoners seem to get so much negative publicity, but while admittedly it is for different reasons, all any of us want is a chance to prove ourselves…
So, yes – I would. And you should too.