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Prison scheme offering chef training programme will be expanded to 25 more jails, MoD announces

A scheme aimed at turning offenders away from a life of crime by giving them the chance to work in professionally-run prison kitchens is set to be rolled out in 25 more jails by the end of the year, the Ministry of Justice has announced.

The Clink Kitchen training programme, already running at eight prisons, sees inmates train for up to 35 hours a week – preparing and cooking thousands of meals daily – while also working towards professional qualifications which will help them find employment on the outside.

One person benefiting from the work is JB, who is serving the last two and a half months of a sentence for a drug-related offence at HMP Brixton.

Since starting to work front of house in the The Clink Restaurant, he has picked up communication skills and a newfound sense of routine.

“After being in your cell so long every day, you begin to lose your ability to speak to people. So now I’m getting used to it again and getting used to the habits of normal life,” said JB, who was introduced to the scheme by another inmate on his wing.

After his apprenticeship in carpentry fell through while still a teenager, he turned to a life of selling narcotics, landing him a 24-month prison sentence.

He now says the Clink has inspired him to try to get back into the trade he once dreamed of doing for a living, while vowing to never return to custody.

“It’s made me thrive, it’s made me want to do things. When I get out, I want to get a job. I want to finish my carpentry qualification.

“I don’t want to end up here again, I’m just going to try my best not to come back,” he said.

Aside from looking for work, one of the things JB is most looking forward to when he leaves is impressing his mother with the new things he has learned how to cook, including jerk chicken, jerk pork and dumplings.

Earlier this week, ahead of the government announcement today, Prisons Minister Alex Chalk visited the site in south London, meeting some of the staff.

He praised the programme, stating ideas like it are “absolutely vital”.

“The rollout of The Clink Kitchens project over the next three years to 70 prisons in England and Wales, will enable us to continue to repair society and support the hospitality industry that has a major skills shortage,” he said.

Some of the 19 prisons where training will take place include Leeds, Liverpool, Bullingdon, Exeter and Northumberland.

Over the last decade, the programme has built a track record of success.

The Clink Charity which runs the kitchens says it has already helped more than 2,500 offenders into stable and secure jobs since launching in 2009 at HMP High Down in Surrey.

This includes 440 prisoners in 2019 alone, with about 280 employers across the country taking on Clink graduates upon release from prison that year.

MoJ analysis from 2019 including 209 people involved in the scheme found that those who took part were 32% less likely to re-offend in their first year out of prison.

One of the people proudest of the idea’s impact is CEO Christopher Moore an experienced restaurateur who called it “the most rewarding job he’s ever done”.

“The best bit of all this is when you see them inside, but then you walk into a restaurant on the outside and you see them helping to repair society,” he added.

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