Posted: 09/07/2019

Prison farm shops aiming to make retailers out of offenders

Operations like HMP Hatfield’s Thyme Served shop are trying to train low-risk inmates as potential retail employees

An increasing number of prisons in the UK are looking to develop retail careers for low-risk inmates by employing them in on-site farm shops – with some hoping to forge links to businesses on the outside.

Several institutions have added fully trading farm shops, with last month’s opening at Dorset’s HMP Portland/Young Offenders Institution in partnership with charity Expia being the most recent.

While many sell produce grown on site, the main aim is to help inmates turn their lives around and secure work upon release.

Several supervisors told FFD they believe the inmates can be a viable alternative employment source once they complete their training and are released.

Other initiatives include HMP Hewell, in the West Midlands, which has a shop with a small café and butchery, and HMP Kirkham in Lancashire. 

Diane Clare, farm shop manager at HMP Kirkham, told FFD the prison was keen to link with family businesses to help provide inmates with jobs in farm shops on release.

“I’m sure there is still prejudice but I think it’s getting a lot better,” she said.

The shop sells tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, seasonal salads and winter vegetables that are grown on the prison’s own farm.

“We have indoor crops and outdoor crops as well,” she added. “It’s outside the gate so the general public can just drive in and buy.”

Inmates who work on prison farm shops are Category D prisoners – those judged to be trusted in an open-prison environment. They tend to be serving sentences for shorter, non-violent offences and they are considered low risk.

The Ministry of Justice said the most recent research available showed that securing employment before release from prison reduced reoffending rates by up to 9%.

Chris George, industries and business & community engagement manager at HMP & YOI Hatfield, in Hertfordshire, said several inmates who had worked in its farm shop, Thyme Served, had gone on to forge careers in retail and one was now a manager for Timpsons.

“Lads gain a qualification in customer care and food hygiene (we have a 5-star food rating). Working in the shop gives them the opportunity to interact with the public and this is key in integrating the men back into society as well as giving them confidence. 

“Many of our customers can’t believe it when they find out that they’re talking to a serving prisoner, hence this is integral in us helping to break those pre-conceived ideas people have of prisoners.” 

This story appeared in the July issue of Fine Food Digest. You can read more on the digital edition here.

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