How would you like to dine in a unique restaurant, where high-quality meals are made from scratch, from your bread to ice cream, and you receive friendly service? Imagine sitting through this entire experience, you consume three courses while sitting in a beautifully hand-crafted restaurant, which has a warm and welcoming environment. To top it off it’s run by a charity, so you not only feel satisfied from the meal but satisfied from supporting such an organisation. Now what if I told you this restaurant was built and staffed by prisoners?

The issue of reoffending is felt worldwide, but the UK in particular has some of the highest rates. 45.2% of adults reoffend within one year of being released. For those serving sentences of less than 12 months this increases to 57.5%. A leading cause for reoffending is that ex-offenders typically lack qualifications to obtain a job, and even those that do have professional experience find rejoining society and normal life is challenging due to the stigma placed on them. 

A recent article on HRZone heard the story of one finance professional, who after a small stint in prison, has been finding it impossible to get back to the working world, despite having 25 years experience. Prisoners with no qualifications are at an even worse disadvantage, needing additional support to get their lives on the right track. With a prison sentence lingering in your file though, all ex-offenders are faced with distrust, perhaps even resentment, and concerns about a company’s reputation from the hiring manager’s perspective.

What is needed to reduce these high reoffending rates is a strong support system which works with prisoners while they are serving their sentence and after to achieve a qualification and secure a job so they can rejoin society and be a valuable member of their communities. 

The Clink Charity aims to do just this. Their sole purpose is to “reduce reoffending through training and rehabilitation of prisoners.” I had the great pleasure of hearing the charity’s founder, Al Crisci MBE, speak about his work in developing the training programme and charity at a recent TEDx event in Bristol. He shared his experience of working with prisoners, how so many of them truly wanted to take control of their lives but knew they’d struggle to even get an interview once it was made known they served in prison. 

Al started by training just a handful of inmates, impressing upon them that nothing less than the highest quality food was acceptable. He invited senior managers to a four-course lunch, made and served entirely by prisoners. The group were so impressed that they gave out cards on the spot, offering jobs to the hopeful inmates. Wanting to expand this programme, Al got permission to build and open a restaurant within the prison. The furniture, walls, and everything else was crafted by the prisoners. 

The aim of the Clink Charity isn’t just about giving prisoners a qualification, but to also change the public perception of them. By opening a restaurant the public are invited to experience something unique and come away with a new outlook on the inmates. Does it work you may ask? From this programme alone, the reoffending rate dropped to 12.5% compared to the typical 50%. I’d call that some actual progress in rehabilitation.

There are plenty of other charities who work with prisoners to reduce the likelihood of a re-offence occurring, honing in on skills such as:

Creativity, arts, digital media (
Mentoring for young offenders (
Peer mentoring (
And many more…

For sustainable impact though, businesses need to get involved. And we’re not talking about fundraising, although that’s probably appreciated. The support needs to come in the form of businesses making a conscious effort to either seek out one of these rehabilitation charities, where the skills and training provided to prisoners aligns with available job roles, or simply be open to hiring ex-offenders.

John Timpson, Chairman of the Timpson high street chain, doesn’t use any special criteria when it comes to employing ex-offenders. In a recent HRZone interview, he said they simply recognise that they will have different challenges, for example their financial situation or where they live. 

“We employ people from prison because firstly, we know actually that it makes a hell of a difference if they’ve got a job because over half the people leaving prison, if they haven’t got a job, will go back again within two years. That drops dramatically if they’re employed.”