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Once they are released, 45% of all inmates from prisons in England and Wales re-offend within a year.
Among inmates serving sentences of under 12 months, the number rises to 60%. However, this drops to 50% if the inmates have stable employment.
While this is obviously still a high number, considering nearly 75,000 people were released from prison in the year ending in June 2016, there could be over 7,000 people not being thrown inside again.
This is all according to a new report by the think tank The Centre for Entrepreneurs, which suggested that the answer could lie in helping to support ex-prisoners start up businesses.
The report “From inmates to entrepreneurs: how prison entrepreneurship can break the cycle of re-offending” found that 80% of prisoners are interested in starting their own business. This is compared to about 40% of the general population.
The report says former inmates display many traits that make them suitable for an entrepreneurial career, such as scoring highly on the need for self-achievement, personal innovation, and the desire for independence.
It also points out that a criminal record won’t get in the way of being self-employed, and no formal qualifications are required – you just need a good idea.
Enterprise Exchange, which specialises in helping people with additional barriers become self employed, runs self-employment courses in prisons. It has also teamed up with Choirs Beating Time, which runs choirs inside prisons, to help support ex-inmates become entrepreneurs. The organisations are launching what they’re calling an Opportunity Fund together, and are approaching businesses and entrepreneurs to contribute.
Inmates will have to show entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to work hard to receive help.
Joe Davis, for example, is a former inmate who developed a business plan for his South American restaurant, Panama Joes, with help from Enterprise Exchange.
He currently employs five staff, has a 4-star rating on TripAdvisor, and could be only a year away from making a profit.
“The past is the past,” he said. “My future is different and much better.”
Phil Ashford, Director of Enterprise Exchange, said the fund is what’s needed to turn people who have served prison sentences into societal assets, rather than liabilities.
“I have worked with many people who are determined to rewrite their future. That’s where the ‘choir’ element of the course really helps,” he said. “In addition to a well thought through business plan, we will have had the chance over a 10-week period to see how well candidates cope with new challenges, interact, collaborate, and network. We’ll see how committed they are.”
He added: “We’ll put them under the pressure of a performance and know how they react to that. Building a business is about more than a good idea and a business plan. Our investors want to know who we are investing in, not just what.”