Baristas behind bars: UK prisoners swap crime for coffee

AYLESBURY, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (RECENT) (THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION – Every morning, the whirr of an industrial-scale coffee roaster and the sharp hiss of a milk frother can be heard as customers queue to get their caffeine fix at a most unusual spot: inside one of Britain’s toughest young offenders prisons.

Staffed by prisoners aged 18 to 21, the Redemption Roasters cafe inside Aylesbury prison, about 60 miles (100 km) northwest of London, trains inmates with speciality coffee skills in a bid to help them to find jobs upon release.

The small-scale coffee company is part of a growing number of businesses globally that aim to have a positive social impact while turning a profit.

For 20-year-old Vince, whose real name could not be used, being productive and learning new skills instead of sitting idly in a cell means his years in jail have not been squandered.

With nearly 4,000 men aged 18-20 in prison in the U.K. last year, according to official statistics, helping them find meaningful and stable work when they leave custody is a key priority, the justice ministry says.

About one in three adult prisoners commit a crime within a year of their release, government data shows, costing the country roughly 15 billion pounds ($19 billion) annually.

Laura Sapwell, governor of Aylesbury prison, said the institution has more than 400 young men. Almost 70 are serving life sentences.

Sapwell said the aim is to help those who leave prison by giving them the opportunity to learn skills for potential employment and further education.

Yet across Britain’s prison system the record is poor. Sixty percent of prisons fail to get inmates into education or training placements, even when there were spaces available, according to a 2018 report by the prison watchdog.

The Inspectorate of Prisons, which scrutinises the condition of prisons across England and Wales, reported that many inmates felt frustrated for not being able to leave their cells to do purposeful activities in the day, which led to violence.

It is a problem that Redemption Roasters, one of the most popular work placements at Aylesbury, aims to tackle.

Redemption Roasters – which invests profits from its London cafes and beans back into the prison scheme – trains 10 Aylesbury inmates at a time with barista, coffee roasting%20roasting&redirect=yes">, customer service and food hygiene skills for up to a year.

Its coffee roaster, the first of its kind inside a British prison, is used to produce a special ‘Aylesbury’ blend of beans that is sold across the country.

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