Many ex-offenders are reconvicted within one year of release. There is plenty of research to say that many prisoners think having a job is a vital part of keeping them out of prison. The problem is finding employment on release can be difficult, particularly for those who were unemployed before they were convicted.
I established The Freedom Bakery at HMP Low Moss on the outskirts of Glasgow to develop the employablility of prisoners, with the aim of reducing re-offending and providing a realistic path to employment. We are a social enterprise producing artisan bread, operating in a maximum security prison with 750 inmates.
We recruit directly from the Prison Halls. Each person goes through a realistic job application and interview process. Once we’ve ‘employed them’, we treat them individually to develop their soft skills and train them to gain an SVQ2, a vocational qualification in craft bakery. They are with us in the bakery five days a week, eight hours a day. For me, a vital part of the training is to recreate a proper working environment, to mimic what a full-time job would be like.
We have people who have been in and out of prison for 25 years, we have people who have been involved in drugs and violent crime, or who have mental health issues. We meet with them regularly to discuss the programme around their soft skills development and confidence, as well as to monitor their development as bakers. For many, the alternative inside would be menial jobs where they don’t learn anything or just going to the gym.
The revenue generating model is actually quite conventional, just adapted to a prison environment. We produce bread and cakes and we sell them in the prison café as well as to restaurants, cafes and businesses in and around Glasgow. What’s really important is the impact we have on our workers. The two key indicators will be the reduction in re-offending over two years after release, and the employability or rate of employment of our graduates.
Social Investment Tax Relief has played a huge role in the set-up of The Freedom Bakery. In Scotland, if you’re starting up a social enterprise, you’re unlikely to get more than maybe £25,000 in grant funding in your first year. I know mainstream banks would write me off, even though I have a contract with the Scottish Prison Service to supply their café which provides regular income. Mainstream social investment loans would have been in the region of 10%, which was too much for me.
I tried looking at other options and then SITR came into my sight. I have 7 investors who all get a 30% tax relief. It’s a four year loan, with interest on the principle rather than per annum. So effectively, the tax relief has enabled me to borrow £48,000 at an equivalent rate of 1.75% p.a. There’s no way I would have got that anywhere else other than through SITR.
I’m hoping the Scottish Prison Service sees this as something of a pilot that can be rolled out in more prisons. I’m planning on raising more investment in 2016 using SITR so that we can open a bakery or restaurant in Glasgow city centre and employ some of the people we’ve trained in the prison.
I want our prisoners to leave with the skills and confidence to get a job, earn a decent living wage and find their feet. That stability will help to make sure they don’t go back to prison. Using SITR really gave me the freedom to fit the intervention around individuals and focus on what they need to increase their long-term employability.