By Staci Strobl
I like to eat and I support the ideal of the rehabilitation of offenders. So what could be more perfect that The Clink Restaurant at Brixton Prison in South London? I immediately made a reservation (in this case, well in advance because the prison must do its security checks on guests) for my husband and I to enjoy high-class dining, complements of inmates training as chefs, sous-chefs, and waiters. I'll be perfectly honest: the concept is so grand that I was going to love it even if the food was bad. But it most certainly was not. Seared tuna on a bed of sesame oil and greens, Hake and mackerel fried medallions and thrice-fried chips, apple crumble, and fair-trade coffee. Simply delicious.
The Clink is the third such restaurant opened in the United Kingdom in recent years. The brainchild of Chef Alberto Crisci, and founder of the The Clink Charities, the prisoners work a 40-hour week, training towards the national certifications they need to enter the restaurant and hotel industries upon release. Thereafter, they receive additional mentoring not only in securing job placement, but also with social and psychological issues that may trigger re-offending.
Anyone who has been keeping up with the rehabilitation literature knows that no one program fits all, but that in general, job training programs are the most likely to succeed with the biggest proportion of offenders. And, according to the statistics provided by The Clink, and verified by an independent examiner, since its founding in 2009, the recidivism rates after one year of release are between 12.5% and 14%. Compare this to the national average of 49% and it appears the program is a winner. Granted, these inmates are selected for the program because they have the potential for success (and in that sense may not be typical of most U.K. prisoners), nonetheless, the success rates are quite suggestive that the program makes a real difference in prisoners' lives.
Could the model be imported to the U.S.? Given the cultural emphasis on consumerism and work-- as in, there is something wrong with you if you can't consume because you don't have a job-- it would seem that the program would resonate for American prisoners as well, providing them an avenue for returning to mainstream society in a dignified way. Unfortunately, the political buy-in from the public for such a program would certainly be harder to come by. In the U.K., though there are strains and pockets of retributivism, they aren't as deeply engrained as they are in the U.S. The British couple sitting next to us at The Clink speculated that at least half of Britons have a compassionate stance toward prisoner-integration programs, more so in an urban environment like London. Alas, I am not sure half of the American population would be inclined to support such an intensive program which may provide better job training than that to which the law-abiding citizen has access.
As a criminologist, I hope for a quality social science study of The Clink in order to glean out more clearly what works and how much it works. I would do it myself, if I could ever find the time with my ten other projects in the fire. But if anyone reading this needs a dissertation topic, it's up for grabs.