Norwich prisoners helping society

Norwich prisoners this week lent a hand to charity as part of an innovative new programme designed to help in their rehabilitation.

On Thursday serving prisoners from Norwich were the first participants of The Custody and Community Manpower initiative, devised and developed by Norwich Prison and Chapelfield Shopping Centre.

A small, supervised group were working at an industrial unit in Rashes Green, Dereham, to help transform it into a new store for successful north Norfolk charity The Benjamin Foundation.

The work has allowed the charity to get well ahead of schedule with the opening of the new store and at the same time helped teach prisoners valuable work skills as part of the rehabilitation process.

Dave Damerell, employment officer at HMP Norwich, is confident the positive action is of major benefit to the community.

He said: 'I have been extremely pleased and I am very proud of what we have achieved through these schemes.

'Although I am here in my role as a prison officer, the prisoners are on temporary release. I am not here to sit and monitor them, they are here as trusted prisoners who have been through a thorough assessment.

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'It is all based on a rigorous risk assessment and it has been decided these prisoners are very low risk. They have had to pass all sorts of things to qualify for this scheme.

'Most of these lads already go out somewhere and have proper paid jobs as prisoners, but are primarily volunteers and use these schemes as a way to do something for the community.

'It gives the prisoners a good perspective on life back in society and is another form of work, but we do look to do something for good causes.'

The Custody and Community Manpower (CCM) initiative is an off-shoot of the Chapelfield Custody and Community Project which was launched in June 2009 to provide practical, real-life work experience and training opportunities for serving prisoners.

Working within Chapelfield, the project aims to help serving prisoners secure permanent jobs while on licence and to actively promote the benefits of the project to other Norfolk businesses.

Chapelfield's bold commitment to the project has already achieved fantastic results. In 18 months, 45 serving prisoners from Norwich prison have completed Chapelfield's eight-week work experience programme. Before they start, each person is assessed to ensure they do not pose a risk to people working or shopping at the centre and to find out what their particular needs are.

They work normal hours alongside the Chapelfield team in areas such as maintenance, recycling and cleaning.

They get on-the-job training and some also undertake qualifications such as NVQs in customer service or waste management. The Ministry of Justice's most recent figures state that, nationally, just under 26pc of prisoners leave prison with a job waiting for them.

Of the 45 prisoners who have completed the Chapelfield Custody and Community programme so far, an impressive 80pc have secured employment.

Nationally, latest figures show that 40.1pc of prison leavers reoffended, at Norwich prison this drops to 33.3pc. But crucially, not one of the Chapelfield work experience prisoners have reoffended since being released.

Jason Frost, 22, is a former prisoner who successfully benefited from working with the CCM and after serving two and-a-half years for grievous bodily harm with intent, is now starting his life as a free man again.

He returned to help with the smooth running of the scheme and felt it played a big role in his return to normal life.

'The scheme is pretty good. I was working at Chapelfield from April last year and learnt a lot. Just to get out of prison for a bit of time was nice as much as anything, to help me get used to normal life again.

'I was working on customer services, waste management and helping management of different retailers at Chapelfield, so I did lots of different things.

'I thought to help pay back something to the community was a good thing and I'm here today so that the other prisoners could see what I have achieved through working with the scheme.'

Davina Tanner, general manager of Chapelfield, has been thrilled by the success of the schemes so far and is hoping to see the success continue.

She said: 'I have been really pleased with the scheme at Chapelfield and we have been supporting offenders to find jobs and break the cycle of crime.

'I'm very pleased and proud of what we have achieved so far because some of the offenders have had very hard lives and have done well out of the scheme.

'This is a project where offenders get out into the community, who would maybe not be ready for the project at Chapelfield just yet, and learn some new skills and start adjusting to society again.

'This pilot scheme was about supporting a community project that wouldn't have had this support.'