Pioneering prisoner project at Norwich’s Chapelfield Shopping Centre has exceeded expectations

Judge Peter Jacobs this week called on businesses in the city to give prisoners a chance to break free from a life of crime by offering them the chance of employment.

Trowse based construction, engineering and maintenance service company May Gurney is one of those companies which has recently decided to embark on a partnership with HMP Norwich to utilise serving prisoners and former offenders.

But while the project might be in its infancy at May Gurney the Chapelfield Custody and Community Project has proved so successful since it was launched in 2009 that it is now expanding to include prisoners from HMP Blundeston as well as Norwich.

Latest figures show that 99 serving prisoners from Norwich Prison have completed the programme with 79.2 pc of them finding full time employment as a result. Of those 99, just two have gone on to reoffend.

David Damerell, community liaison officer from HMP Norwich, has been involved in the project from the start and said he has been delighted by its success.

He said: 'It's certainly shown how successful schemes can be working with the private sector – as a prison we can't do this alone.

'It's exceeded expectations by a long, long way.

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'It's like most projects; you start off slowly and sometimes they're successful and dwindle away, but this project keeps going from strength to strength and a lot of that is due to do with the enthusiasm of the management of Chapelfield – they fully support the idea and give us as much support as we require as we do them.'

Mr Damerell said prisoners from Blundeston were now involved in the project, with six offenders coming over from Suffolk on a daily basis.

He said Judge Jacobs' plea for other businesses in the city to take the same approach as Chapelfield at a Business in the Community event in Norwich this week would help get the message across that projects like this worked.

He said: 'I found it very interesting to listen to what Judge Jacobs said because he's singing from the same hymn sheet.

'For someone of his standing to say what he said can only help us in the future.'

Since launching the project Chapelfield has had an average of 225 additional man hours available per week from work experience offenders with approximately 33pc of these hours allocated to maintenance and cleaning.

The project, which was highly commended in the Work Inclusion Category at the national Business in the Community awards last year, has also helped overall staff turnover drop from 16pc to 9pc and absenteeism reduced from 5.5pc to 3pc.

It has provided a platform for Davina Tanner, general manager at Chapelfield, to cement existing relationships with influencers and develop new ones.

She has become an authoritative voice on the topic of reducing re-offending through employment.

Overall staff turnover has dropped from 16pc to 9pc and absenteeism has reduced from 5.5pc to 3pc.

Former offenders do not tend to take sick days as they value the opportunity to be out at work, which has the effect of encouraging other staff wanting to match the excellent attendance record demonstrated by work experience offenders.

Kay Chaldecott, managing director of Capital Shopping Centres Group PLC which owns Chapelfield Shopping Centre, said: 'The outcomes of the project have been compelling and the project has been cited as an exemplar in the field of business help for offender support and rehabilitation.

'We are delighted to be in a partnership that sees a major employer in Norfolk offer new opportunities for former offenders willing to take them.'