Chris Grayling's announcement of the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda stoked the fires of social enterprise in the criminal justice sector. Now the charity where Chris Grayling chose to announce his policy is surging ahead in developing its own enterprises, with the goal of aiding the recovery of former addicts and ex-offenders.
As the new Social Enterprise Development Manager at RAPt (Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust), I'm fortunate enough to be charged with heading up this new venture. Whilst it's early days (I started a week ago), I've come across no shortage of inspiration. Within my first week I found myself at RAPt's highly regarded residential rehabilitation unit in Hull called The Bridges. The day I visited coincided with a ceremony celebrating the graduation of a RAPt client - RAPt call them Graduates - who had lived at The Bridges for six months. His cycle of addiction and imprisonment had been halted in its tracks by support from a team of committed counsellors and peers. As well as delivering treatment, The Bridges offers almost limitless personal care to the men who come through their doors, unsurprising perhaps given that many staff were once in the same position as the clients.
Sat in the corner of a top floor room, on the outskirts of Hull, I witnessed a group of grown men, hardened by years of addiction and prison sentences, vocally and publicly offer support to one another. Each of the men showed a striking level of maturity and displayed a perceptive awareness of their need for mutual support. If the fellowship of those in recovery provides care like this, then it's surely one of the most powerful groups in our country - yet those of us outside of the community are almost unaware of its existence.
RAPt's national Aftercare team continue to support RAPt Graduates' in the many challenges they will face once completing treatment. They assist graduates with finding accommodation, securing a place in residential rehab after prison and, eventually, securing training and employment. But the stigma of having a criminal record, as well as a history of addiction, means that opportunities for work are not always forthcoming. To help improve this RAPt has decided to take further action. The brainchild of RAPt's Development Director, Dan Hayes, RAPt's social enterprise programme will create sustainable employment opportunities to RAPt Graduates, ex-offenders and others in recovery from addiction.
The ability of social enterprise to add value in this sector is well known. Blue Sky for example have employed over 800 ex-offenders in their groundwork and recycling ventures since 2005, achieving a re-offending rate one quarter of the national average. Bounce Back, where I am a trustee, has employed over 100 ex-offenders in their painting and decorating business and assist their staff to move into private sector positions armed with experience and an all-important reference.
The hard hearted, who believe that jobs in the UK are better offered to non-offenders, should consider the potentially enormous savings made by society when work opportunities are targeted at those with a troubled past. An estimated 58% of offenders serving a 12-month sentence or less re-offend - offering employment opportunities has been shown to reduce the risk of reconviction by as much as half. Keeping someone in prison costs the taxpayer over £40,000 a year whilst giving the same person a minimum wage job for 35 hours a week provides a positive contribution of £1,379 to the treasury.
So what's in store for RAPt's new social enterprise programme? Cafés, gardening, bakeries, RAPt Graduates' own business ideas - you name it and we'll consider creating or supporting it, provided the outcome is a job for one of our clients. A degree of risk in this new venture is inevitable, but in time we hope it results in better support for the people who need it the most and increased opportunities to build a more productive future. Through offering employment, we will champion recovery and make a valuable contribution to offender rehabilitation.
To find out more about RAPt:
RAPt (the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust) works to help people with drug and alcohol dependence, both in prison and in the community, achieve and maintain positive and fulfilling drug-free and crime-free lives.
In 1992 RAPt founded the first drug treatment facility in a UK prison. Today they are the leading provider of intensive, abstinence-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation programmes in UK prisons, and they provide high-quality drug and alcohol services reaching 20,000 people every year within the criminal justice system and in the community.