A study published by the Ministry of Justice has found that inmates trained in Brixton’s Clink restaurant are over 60 per cent less likely to reoffend. Those trained in multiple restaurant, hospitality and food service skills at the flagship project had a reoffending rate of 11 per cent. For other inmates with similar backgrounds and criminal records but who were not involved in the scheme, the reoffending rate was 32 per cent.
Opened in 2014, the restaurant sits in the 19th-century prison governor’s house in the middle of the HMP Brixton’s main courtyard, surrounded by 6 wings housing almost 800 prisoners. Diners, paying £39.95 for a three-course dinner, are vetted prior to their visits, asked to send in a photo of their passport and bring it on the day, and undergo searches and security checks upon entry. Mocktails are on the menu, but alcohol is not available. Plates and cutlery are made of plastic. In 2017 it was reported that inmates at the prison – whose former notables include the Kray twins, Oswald Mosley and Bertrand Russell – were using the Clink to smuggle drugs, SIM cards and mobile phones into the jail.
Graduates of the Clink, a registered charity established by the former catering manager at HMP High Down, can gain City and Guilds NVQs in food preparation, food service and cleaning, and have been taken on in restaurants including Wahaca, Carlucios and the Lancaster Hotel upon release. Helping inmates into gainful employment and providing them with valuable skills is seen as an essential part of effective rehabilitation and breaking the cycle of reoffending.
The restaurant has received rave reviews from critics including Giles Coren, and currently serves dishes including rabbit and pistachio terrine, beetroot and roast garlic tarte tartin, and raspberry and elderflower panna cotta.
Similar programmes involving skills training in Clink restaurants in Cardiff, High Down and Styal prisons have also had positive effects on reoffending rates. Across England and Wales, it costs an average of £37,543 a year to keep a prisoner in jail, and reoffending is estimated to cost the taxpayer £18bn in total each year. Across the wider prison population, figures show that 37 per cent of adults leaving prison will have reoffended within a year. This figure jumps to 62 per cent for prisoners who have been released from short sentences of less than 12 months.
Earlier this year, the then Justice Secretary, David Gauke, criticised short custodial sentences as costly and ineffective, highlighting research showing that reoffending was less likely if petty criminals were given robust community sentences including mental health and addiction treatments. Gauke resigned last month and has urged his successor to implement “an evidence-led, rehabilitative and humane agenda” for the prison service. Robert Buckland, the new Secretary of State, has stated that “it’s clear that short prison sentences (of less than 6 months) simply aren’t working.”