Opening prison restaurants in New Zealand has the potential to cut reoffending – while being a great experience for diners.
New research from the Auckland University of Technology and the University of Greenwich shows that The Clink’s learning restaurants in the United Kingdom, where food is prepared and served by prisoners, are an overwhelmingly positive experience for the public who dine there.
“These restaurants are comparable to Michelin-star dining, which, when combined with the fact that The Clink graduates are 66 per cent less likely to reoffend, gives us strong reason to look at a similar model for Aotearoa,” says Professor Alison McIntosh of AUT.
“Our incarceration and reoffending rates are high compared to other developed countries. The Clink is popular and reduces reoffending - why wouldn’t we seriously look at doing something similar here?”
Dr Maria Gebbels from the University of Greenwich, together with Professor McIntosh and Dr Tracy Harkison from the Auckland University of Technology, have published a study in which they used TripAdvisor reviews from the public to gain insight into the success of The Clink restaurants located inside prisons in the United Kingdom.
The four The Clink restaurants cater for 90–120 customers at a time in each restaurant. Prisoners with six to 18 months remaining on their sentences serve as volunteers in the restaurants whilst undertaking full-time training toward hospitality qualifications.
The restaurant menus are comparable to those found in other stylish, modern fine-dining establishments, although alcohol cannot be served.
The Clink restaurant at Brixton consistently ranks as one of the top-10 fine-dining restaurants in London on TripAdvisor.
Across the four locations, 82.6 per cent of the reviews were five-star, with one-star ratings accounting for just 0.4 per cent of all reviews.
Key word searches were then done to dig further into the reviews to help gain a better understanding of what was so popular about the restaurants with their diners.
Reviewers praised the types of dishes, and the high quality and presentation of food served in these training restaurants, which illustrates that working prisons are successful hospitality establishments, despite their unique location.
Reviewers also shared opinions about the professional, friendly, and attentive service delivered by the professional front of house staff (prisoner-trainees). They suggest that the restaurant staff are no longer seen as inmates, but as highly trained hospitality workers.
Professor Alison McIntosh says that having a training restaurant inside a working prison that is enjoyed by its customers and that is shown to make a difference to the lives of the trainees is an important finding of the study.
“It confirms that hospitality training is an important component in prisoner rehabilitation, and The Clink model provides support both during the training as well as upon release to ensure success.”
Dr Maria Gebbels of the University of Greenwich says The Clink restaurants have a proven track record in reducing reoffending rates.
“Through participation in their restaurant training programme – based on five stages from recruitment, training, in-prison support to employment and post-prison mentoring – a Clink graduate is 65.6 per cent less likely to reoffend,” she says.
“Besides that, a Clink graduate leaves the programme with relevant hospitality training, soft skills, a new-found meaning in life, social support and a possibility of meaningful employment in the hospitality industry and beyond.
“The public who dines in these fine-dining restaurants can also contribute to the work of this charity by supporting prisoners’ training, sharing their memorable experiences on TripAdvisor, and helping to break down stereotypes. Through these training restaurants, hospitality becomes the much-needed key to changing public perceptions of prisoners.”
Dr Tracy Harkison of the Auckland University of Technology says the hospitality industry is crying out for trained staff.
"Although there is some hospitality training offered in our prisons, there is little experience offered in serving the public.
“Being able to train and gain experience inside a prison, and then to have the support once released, can only benefit the hospitality industry.
“The Clink model is one that has proven to have worked time and time again. It would be great to see it repeated in Aotearoa and in other countries.”