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Prisoner turned entrepreneur

Written by Richard Cooke

Turning Prisoners into Entrepreneurs

Despite the fact that prison officers are technically banned from taking industrial action, in the first week of July the situation in the UK’s prisons had become so difficult that up to six thousand members of the Prison Officers’ Association staged a series of unofficial walkouts in jails across England and Wales. The trigger was the huge upsurge in violence – assaults on staff had risen by 36%, with some 5,500 acts of assault committed in 2015.

The matter was raised in the House of Commons by Labour MP Andy Slaughter, who told the House that 100 staff walked out for one hour at HM Prison Liverpool, where there had been more assaults on staff in the past 12 months than in the previous 12 years. Slaughter said: “In the last year, there have been at least 20 staff assaults, including a member of staff who was stabbed – staff being spat on, punched and kicked.”

Rehabilitation Vs. Recidivism

In tandem with the rise in assaults on prison staff, the number of self-harm incidents, assaults on inmates and prisoner suicides all rose sharply last year, according to figures released by the Ministry of Justice. In 2015, there were 89 suicides in prisons. Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “No one should be so desperate whilst they are in the care of the state that they take their own life. This level of deaths, violence and anguish in prisons cannot continue to rise in a civilised society. We cannot go on cramming more people into jails without any thought for the consequences.”

To make matters worse, problems faced by prisoners on release – such as challenges when it comes to getting a job – contribute to a high level of recidivism. It seems something needs to be done to break the cycle and change both the prospects and the mindset of prisoners.

Harnessing Prisoner Personality Traits Could Result in Better Outcomes

A possible solution to the problem has come from what might be considered an unlikely source: the Centre for Entrepreneurs (CFE), who assert that prisoners and entrepreneurs share a number of key traits. Duane Jackson, an ex-prisoner and successful entrepreneur, agrees, saying: “Calculated risks, buying in volume and selling in smaller quantities at a higher price, dealing with competition, paying workers, strategic alliances. The list of parallels goes on and on.”

A CFE report, From Inmates to Entrepreneurs, suggests that by encouraging the entrepreneurial skills of inmates, and giving them the necessary guidance and support to help them start a business, the repeat offender rate could be reduced nationally from 46% to 14%. It’s also worth noting that the barriers sometimes encountered when seeking traditional employment simply aren’t there for entrepreneurs.

Does Brexit Mean More Home-grown Entrepreneurs are Needed?

Post-Brexit, the economic landscape is likely to be greatly changed, and while some businesses may no longer be relevant, new opportunities will doubtless open up. If we consider that there is also likely to be less movement of workers between nations, then there will arguably be a greater need to make the most of home-grown talent, whether through encouraging enterprise or a more enlightened approach to employment. In such a landscape it would seem that people prepared to take calculated risks and forge strategic alliances would be an asset, irrespective of their background.

Do you think a prison scheme like this would have its merits? Perhaps you’re a probation officer with first-hand experience of helping inmates get back into employment or starting their own business? Whatever your opinion, please share it with us in the comments section below or drop us a line on our Facebook page.