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Changing prisoners’ fortunes

Recycling Lives Social Enterprise (RLSE) has worked in prisons for the last 11+ years. Running its own workshops in prisons across the North-West, Yorkshire and Midlands, it engages men and women in recycling, welding, and fabrication work. The team support prisoners and prison leavers with every area of their life – work, training, housing, mental health, relationships, finances and, in their own words, much more, to reduce reoffending.

In this blog, Alasdair Jackson, Chief Executive of RLSE, tells us about his team’s meeting with the Prisons Minister, and how they hope their work will continue to change prisoners’ finances – and lives.

I want to talk about money. I know it’s typically an off-limits subject but it’s something we’re keen on. It’s a topic we were able to discuss directly with the prisons minister recently, too.

In early August, Damian Hinds (Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice) visited HMP Wealstun, a Cat C men’s prison in West Yorkshire. Some of the senior team there had asked our team – Rob, our Rehabilitation Programmes Manager, and Rick, one of our Housing & Employability Coordinators – to join them in meeting with him.

We took the opportunity to explain our approach to rehabilitation.

Our workshops allow participants to develop a range of transferable life and work skills, while earning enhanced wages – saving some up each week. We also offer personalised through-the-gate support for participants to apply for jobs, find housing, settle debts, rekindle family relationships, access health services, and plenty more in between.

RLSE’s approach to upskilling prisoners has led to hundreds of people leaving prison with a job to go to on their release. It is an impressive model, and RLSE’s commitment to provide tailored support during and after the prison term plays a key part in their success.
Damian Hinds, Minister of State (Ministry of Justice)

Savings scheme

We encourage all the people we support, both in the workshops or working out on Release on Temporary Licence, to set aside at least 40% of their earnings each week where possible, as savings ready for release. We’ve seen people leave with a substantial savings pot, allowing them to put down deposits on decent flats, buy a car to get to work, buy new clothes for interviews, or help buy essentials for their family. One guy even gave his daughter a lump sum towards her wedding – priceless!

When we expanded our programme that provides work for serving prisoners into HMP Wealstun in early 2022, saving for the future was one of the central tenets we encourage. In fact, we negotiated with the prison to ensure £10 a week still went into savings for all the lads signed up, so they didn’t miss out.

I chatted with Max, one of the lads we supported in HMP Wealstun. He’s now working for himself and living back with family after release. He reflected on how handy that money had been for him:

Even though I only worked with Recycling Lives for a few weeks, I got out with an extra £200 in my pocket. I used it to get myself some new clothes, ready for my job. You need to sort those little things as much as the big things.

Wrap-around support

In newer prisons, we offer the wrap around support element of the programme as a bolt-on to existing workshops where people are working ahead of release. It means we don’t need to set up entire workshops to support people in more prisons – allowing us to grow, help more people and in turn further reduce reoffending rates.

We’d be happy to chat with any prison or organisation interested in setting up opportunities for prisoners to save whilst they earn, or who are keen to know more about RLSE or partner with us.

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You might also be interested to know that prisoners are supported to set up a bank account in the community that they can access on release through New Futures Network’s Prisoner Banking Programme.

By Alasdair Jackson, Chief Executive, Recycling Lives Social Enterprise