With prisoner re-offending rates now such a burning issue, it will be interesting to see if a bold new initative can help turn down the heat by teaching prisoners how to serve food while also serving time.
A sweetly-named Clink Restaurant opened at HMP Brixton in South London last month, following those at HMP High Down and HMP Cardiff. Run by the Clink charity, these commercial operations give inmates approaching release transferable skills by learning the finer art of haute cuisine. In this they are trained by professional chefs, and mentored by them when they leave. Giorgio Locatelli and Antonio Carluccio are among those involved. Re-offending has been reduced from 50% to 10% among the 100 released prisoners who have trained in Clink restaurants.
Clink said it is keen to come to Scotland and is looking at sites. The prison must have the relevant category of prisoner for working with the public, and the prison itself would have to have be situated near a viable volume of customers. In other words, in a major city.
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Meantime, HMP Barlinnie has designed an "SVQ catering area" in its kitchens, where prisoners cook for the staff canteen and can gain SVQs in hospitality and catering. And the Scottish Prison Service has launched an innovative catering placement scheme to help young offenders. Four inmates at Polmont Young Offenders Institution are working in the staff canteen at SPS headquarters in Edinburgh, under the guidance of the prison catering officer. The food ranges from canteen-level to large buffets for events and meetings at Calton House.
The SPS hopes to work with The Broomhouse Centre's café training project in Edinburgh to further the opportunities for young men to get real work place experience and to gain accreditation in the "softer" skills of hygiene, customer service and waiting tables. Even if it doesn't lead to a job in a restaurant post-release, it's nevertheless an acknowledgment of the power of food to heal and rehabilitate. Staff say they've already noticed visible improvements in the confidence and skills of the young people involved.
The SPS says it has no plans at this stage to introduce a project similar to Clink restaurants, but discussions are underway about the potential for groups and organisations such as residential care homes for the elderly to receive food prepared by the services, either by visiting for events or by catering being delivered from the institution.
Since the TV chef Cyrus Todiwala has just been appointed an ambassador for HMP Brixton's new Clink restaurant, I asked Scotland's own Tony Singh - former chef-proprietor of Oloroso restaurant in Edinburgh who co-authored a bestselling cookbook with Todiwala - if he might be interested in being involved with the charity were it to come to Scotland. In fact, Singh is hoping to support Todiwala in Brixton, and his spokeswoman said she was sure he would want to be involved if Clink were to come to Scotland. Make of that what you will.
All of which puts a new spin on the concept of partners in crime.