Prisoners have been taught how to set up microbusinesses in an effort to reduce the numbers ending up back behind bars, with the pilot project now looking to expand.
It costs around £40,000 to hold someone in prison every year, and a pilot project by Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University put women inmates at HMP Grampian in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, through a three-day course in the hope of turning the tide on growing reconviction rates.
Jahangir Wasim, head of business and management at the university and project lead, said: “Deciding what path to take on release can be hugely frightening.
“This pilot set out to equip participants with a broad range of practical and entrepreneurial skills, providing them with hope and a renewed passion for how their life could look when they are released.”
The course is designed to equip prisoners with essential business skills to help them on the road to success, such as marketing, taxation, how to sell services and products, and information on where to find wider business support locally.
Those released from prison are more likely to reoffend if they are unemployed compared with those with jobs, and funding is now being sought to extend the project to help support more of Scotland’s 7,400 prisoners.
The criminal reconviction rate rose in Scotland in 2018/19 for the first time for a decade, climbing to 28.3% from 26.4%.
Mr Wasim said: “While there are charities and services available to them on release, anecdotal evidence shows some reoffend quickly as they don’t know how to manage in the community.
“We found there were no dedicated support services in Scotland designed to help people previously in custody to launch their own businesses”.
Attendees were chosen to attend the pilot based on their upcoming release date, and business ideas proposed included a food and drink firm, house painting, and pet care.
Graeme Young, outreach co-ordinator at the prison, said: “Sometimes the talent of people can go to waste because they don’t know how to turn it into a positive.
“However, with the information and support provided throughout this course, they were shown how to take their ideas forward, and use their new skills to improve their opportunities in the future.”
Practical and interactive methods proved to be most successful, resulting in full attendance for each session, researchers said.
Teaching entrepreneurial skills was found to have impacted upon the way the women viewed themselves, and they walked away feeling empowered and passionate about their ideas.
Heriot-Watt University has since created a research project based on the pilot to explore key learnings and refinements ahead of the launch of a wider programme across Scotland.
Gillian Murray, deputy principal of enterprise and business at the university, hailed it as a “ground-breaking pilot”.
She added: “Research like this is a great example of how those in custody can be equipped with the right tools to build lives outside of prison, contributing positively to Scotland’s economy,” she said.
“This supports the Scottish Government’s ambition to reduce reconviction rates through innovative and forward thinking initiatives.”
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