Can social enterprises really solve the “returning prisoner” dilemma?

Published on April 10, 2019

While nothing will ever repay the victims of crime, ensuring prisoners don’t go back to a life of crime after release should surely be the objective of the prison system.

Locking people up and forgetting about them is an inhumane and ultimately fruitless pursuit with re-offending rates still far too high.

In the UK, many prison reformers are now turning to social enterprises and charities to work out innovative new ways of ensuring prisoners don’t re-offend.

For example, one not-for-profit social enterprise which aims to reduce re-offending by employing people with criminal convictions to produce baked goods, has recently won awards for its work.

HMPasties, which is run by ex-offenders, was recognised for its work providing educational and training facilities to people with convictions.

Founder Lee Wakeham, an ex-offender himself, knows how important gaining employment and building a career are to living a life free of crime. Lee wants to give ex-offenders a second chance by helping them receive training and peer mentoring whilst employed and earning a living wage.

The enterprise’s traditional pasties are handmade using beef from the 120 acre farm in HMP Kirkham in Lancashire, simultaneously helping to increase employment and training opportunities within the prison itself, while ensuring a supply of high quality, locally produced beef. HMPasties’ mobile catering van delivers welcome food to local construction sites and other locations.

Meanwhile, other prisoners are being encouraged to become entrepreneurs in a bid to slash the cost of re-offending.

Researchers claim that many prisoners already have the skills needed to become successful business owners, but are let down by a system that doesn’t help them set up their own firm when they leave jail.

A Devon-based researcher, Sheena Leaf, found that in one American project, 1,500 convicts learned business skills prior to being let out and this lead to the creation of 211 businesses. Six of these firms now have a turnover in excess of $1 million.

In this Texan programme, even those who didn’t start a new business on release benefitted, with all “graduates” getting a job within 90 days of leaving prison.

The report, funded by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, has led to a new UK-based project to develop prisoners’ skills in running a business and helping them turn business ideas into reality when they leave prison.

The programme has been tested at Dartmoor Prison in the UK and is looking for support to roll it out further in an effort to reduce the £13bn / $17bn cost of re-offending in the UK.

But it’s not just about tackling skills and employment issues, many prisoners will have addiction and other substance abuse problems.

The Forward Trust charity prison services have helped prevent fatal overdoses by providing newly released prisoners with life saving medication.

The number of drug-related deaths in England and Wales is at an all-time high, with 3,756 deaths in 2017. 53% of these deaths involved an opioid. Those who are released from prison are at the highest risk of overdose and drug-related death in the first few weeks following release.

Naloxone is an effective, cheap and easy to administer drug that can save lives by reversing the reduced breathing rate caused by an opioid overdose and thus preventing death.

This new process was first implemented in HMP Lewes, where it had a positive effect on uptake of Naloxone kits by opioid users – with an average of 53% being released with Take Home Naloxone.

So while prisoners may not be able to repay victims, with prison reform led by a social enterprise approach, they can repay society.

Simon Francis is a contributing writer at Grit Daily. Based in the United Kingdom, Francis covers news from the U.K. each week. To let him know about your good news email him at

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