As The Clink Charity prepares to open its second prison restaurant, this time on the grounds of HMP Cardiff, chief executive Chris Moore has revealed the charity has plans to open two restaurants every year until 2016 with Greater London next on the horizon.
After completing six weeks training from scratch, more than 30 prisoners with little or no background in the hospitality industry will start serving paying guests in a 96-cover restaurant later this week.
The Clink Cymru is the second restaurant for the charity following the success of a site at HMP High Down in Sutton which opened in 2009 but has won plaudits for reducing re-offending rates and training high-quality restaurant employees.
Speaking to BigHospitality, Moore, who already has more than a quarter of a century's experience in the industry, explained the charity had ambitious plans to expand the influence of the project which has fine-tuned a five-step programme for its prisoners.
“We, as The Clink Charity board, have committed to build another eight restaurants by 2016 – so that will be two a year for the next four years. The majority of those will be in public prisons – we work in partnership with HM Prison Service to select the right prison.”
The 'right' prison is not easy to find - it must have the required category of prisoners, have a large enough local population with the correct demographic to become the restaurant's clientele and be near an area with a good amount of local hospitality businesses to take 'graduates' from The Clink once they are released.
“We will be opening two restaurants in the Greater London area in 2013," Moore revealed.
Nationally prison re-offending rates currently stand at just under 50 per cent. However the number of former prisoners who are trained by the charity and then go on to commit another crime after the end of their sentence is significantly less - the re-offending rate among 'graduates' is just 10 per cent.
The success of the scheme has not gone unnoticed in the hospitality industry with celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay highlighting the possibility of training prisoners in restaurant skills in a recent TV show.
Roast founder Iqbal Wahhab, who successfully employed a former inmate as a result of taking part in Gordon Behind Bars, last month told BigHospitality the prison service should be doing more to promote catering inside jails.
Unlike the original restaurant which employs Category B and C prisoners, Cardiff will give opportunities to Category D prisoners at HMP Cardiff and a number of others from nearby HMP Prescoed.
The change means diners will be able to walk in and eat at the restaurant, which is open for breakfast and lunch, without having to make a reservation and go through tight prison security procedures. Although the inmates are recruited in the same way for both restaurants, Moore revealed there are other challenges and opportunities the project brings.
“In High Down our prisoners can’t use the telephones or computers – they are not allowed any contact with the outside world. Whereas in Cardiff we have got them answering the phone and cash handling."
“If three or four of them go sick, have to go to court or have got a visit they don’t come to work that day irrespective of how many people I have got booked into the restaurant. We can’t just phone up a recruitment agency – we just have to cope.”
Restaurant sales cover food costs but the charity relies on donations of equipment, reduced rates, some volunteers and private donations to deliver its training.
However Moore said the restaurants, which each employ two non-prisoner industry employees, were effectively another employment agency and delivered a big benefit to the hospitality industry.
"We are providing highly-trained graduates that have had six to 18 months solid training, 52 weeks a year. There aren’t many companies or colleges that can provide that level of training," he concluded.