Alberto Crisci wins Education and Training 2011 Catey award

The Clink, a UK training restaurant inside a prison is building itself a strong reputation for rehabilitating ex-offenders. The Institute of Hospitality was proud to present Al Crisci MIH, the founder and trustee of The Clink Charity, with the 2011 Education and Training Catey Award in July.

Al_Crisci_MIH

How and why did you open The Clink?

I was training prisoners in the main prison kitchen to a Level 2 City and Guilds standard and saw a lot of potential in them, so I thought if I was going to train prisoners to the next stage, I wanted it to be in the best environment possible for them. I also wanted the satisfaction of seeing them get jobs in the industry when they are released. The main reason it has happened is that the governor Peter Dawson was very forward-thinking. He saw something in it. Another governor could have stopped it in its tracks. External funding of £330,000 was raised and later matched by the prison, which allowed the restaurant build to commence. We aim to continue to secure funds from private individuals and philanthropic businesses to meet the cost of training and the running of the business.

What kind of response did you have following the showing of the BBC1 documentary The Prison Restaurant in April?

Our website went down that night. We had something like 11,000 hits. Around seven million people watched it. It was a phenomenal response. We were pretty busy before but now we’re busy all the time. It’s what we wanted. The Clink is not open to just anyone; you need to have an interest or a reason to come. The beauty is that employers can come, have a meal and meet prospective employees; to put a face to a prison number, so to speak. This cuts out the red tape. We’ve had so many offers of help and the prison governor is very pleased with the way it’s worked.

Has your rate of success with re-settlement improved since The Clink has been in place?

Yes. When we opened we struggled to find 20 prisoners in High Down who wanted to be part of the scheme and could also be security cleared. In the beginning we had 20 prisoners but their sentences were from one to 15 years, so we only released 13 in the first 18 months. Since January 2011 we have selected prisoners from 19 prisons in the South East and they all have six to 18 months left to serve. We are on track to producing 24 Clink graduates a year now.

What are the most frustrating aspects of your job?

Prisoners re-offending, but compared to the national average that shows 49% of released prisoners re-offend, Clink graduates have a good record – around 20% have re-offended. 24 graduates a year doesn’t sound a lot but if you can keep 20 out of prison you are saving a lot of money (£940.000) when you think it costs £47,000 to keep a prisoner for one year.

And the most satisfying?

Ex-offenders working in the industry. We have now gone into partnership with the charity Springboard UK who is mentoring our graduates during their first six months after release. Springboard meets them every week and takes them to their jobs. One of our graduates has recently been promoted to restaurant supervisor with a well-known contract caterer in London; we also have graduates working for other well-known establishments within the industry.

What do you have planned for the future?

We have a series of fundraising lunches and guest chefs come to work in The Clink. These include Anton and Mark Mosimann, Antonio Carluccio, Cyrus Todiwala, Brian Turner, and Giorgio Locatelli. There are three benefits: the business gets to work with a top chef; I will get some new ideas; and they will be great fundraisers and ways to attract more employers.  We are looking at expanding, with three more restaurants opening in prisons over the next four years. We can’t say where they’ll be yet; we are whittling down a shortlist. We also have Clink in the Community  which is a major project in Kennington, South London, that will provide accommodation and employment for ex-offenders opening in late 2013.

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