Jail launches project to help criminals turn over a new leaf after their release
Prisoners preparing for release at the end of their sentences know they are in for a tough ride.
With many without a penny to their name as they leave the prison gates, it is easy for ex-offenders to fall into old habits - committing crimes again to survive and becoming locked into a vicious circle which will inevitably land them behind bars again.
But a scheme involving HMP Hatfield - an open prison in Doncaster - is hoping to break the cycle, with prisoners approaching the end of their sentences offered work placements with a firm prepared to give them a second chance.
In return for free labour, the prisoners are put on a series of training courses geared up to help them land jobs in the rail industry. One career criminal released from prison earlier this month started a full-time job last weekend.
Antony Pankhurst has been in and out of jail since his teens and has just been released from a seven-year stretch for conspiracy to burgle. He was a member of an organised crime gang responsible for a series raids in which high-value items including a Porsche 911 and jewellery were stolen.
Nobody gives you a chance when you leave prisonAntony Pankhurst
But the 39-year-old is now a member of a another gang - a railway gang legitimately employed to work on the country’s rail network.
He will carry out repairs and maintain the track and railway infrastructure with prospects of earning over £25 an hour.
Without the job, he accepts that he would probably be destined for jail again, with many firms unwilling to offer ex-cons a second chance.
But Doncaster-based Intertrain, a health and safety training provider specialising in the rail industry, is changing that and offering prisoners work placements to help get them back on track.
In return for offenders from Hatfield open prison working for free at the training centre, they are placed on in-house training courses to boost their CVs, making them attractive to firms looking for railway workers.
Antony is the first involved in the project to land a job.
The hope is that five others currently on day release placements from prison will follow in his footsteps, freeing up spaces for other inmates approaching the end of their sentences to get their chance to turn their lives around.
It is hoped that prison bosses will allow inmates close to their release dates to work paid shifts on the railway to give them experience of the job on top of the free training to increase their chances of finding work.
Hatfield prison prepares prisoners for their eventual release back into society.
Inmates are trusted to leave prison for home visits and work placements to help them adjust to life on the outside.
Antony, whose oldest child is 17 and youngest is eight weeks old, said he was determined to grasp the opportunity offered by Intertrain.
He spent around 10 weeks carrying out general maintenance work for the firm for free in return for being enrolled on to a raft of safety courses qualifying him for railway jobs.
“Nobody gives you a chance when you leave prison – as soon as you disclose your background nobody wants to know,” he said.
“With five mouths to feed and no money coming in it would have been easy to have fallen into old ways but thanks to Intertrain I have been given a lifeline and now I finally have prospects.
“I hope everyone offered a placement here towards the end of their sentences makes the most of it like I did because the more people who end up with a job through it the more people are going to stay on the straight and narrow.
“I can’t tell you how difficult it is to get on in life after prison, so this leg up offered by Intertrain is massive.”
Lifer Dave Sheldon, who has spent 18 years behind bars for armed robberies and hopes to be released in September, is another prisoner eager to land a job at the end of his placement.
The 48-year-old, from Derby, said the placements have given him a new zest for life.
“Nobody judges you at Intertrain - they know your past, they are giving you a chance and it is up to you to make the most of that if you want to get on and do something with the rest of life on your release,” he said.
“I have wasted too many years locked up not to give this 100 per cent - it’s the opportunity of a lifetime, the chance of a fresh start.”
Keith Jessop, Intertrain’s managing director, said: “We believe that we have a corporate social responsibilty to assist those in the community who require that extra support, in order to make a positive contribution to the wider society.
“Offender rehabilitation is an area where we can do exactly that - we can provide such help and support as necessary for individuals who wish to work hard and make positive life choices.”
Neil Moore, Deputy Governor at HMP Hatfield, said: “At Hatfield we are acutely aware of the challenges that our population has in attempting to secure employment and training upon release. We work closely with a number of employers, including Intertrain, to seek to provide appropriate skills and job opportunities, inside the prison and in the community, for appropriately risk assessed individuals on temporary release.
“These opportunities are important stepping stones for individuals re-integrating into society. Many of the roles they take up are voluntary. For those who are on paid placements, 40% of their earnings go towards supporting Victims Of Crime Services.”
■ Intertrain, based at the Balby Court Business Campus, is looking for other railway-based firms to relocate there. The hope is that if more businesses move there, more prisoners will find work.