London-based charity Switchback has won the Robin Corbett Award for Prisoner Rehabilitation 2016. This innovative charity, which was nominated for its work at HMP/YOI Isis in Thamesmead, uses catering, combined with intensive mentoring, as a way to help prisoners into training and employment on release. The charity has worked with professional chefs including the campaigner, food writer, broadcaster, and Switchback Partner, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Commenting, Fearnley-Whittingstall said: “We love our work with Switchback. It’s a fantastic organisation that gives people an amazing chance.”

The second prize was awarded to St Giles Trust for their work at HMP Huntercombe to help foreign nationals held in prison with support and advice to prepare them for their release and reduce their risk of future offending.

The awards, kindly supported by the Worshipful Company of Weavers, will be presented to the winners by Lady Corbett at a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Penal Affairs Group in the Houses of Parliament today [Tuesday 23 February 2016]. The award was established in 2012 in memory of the former chair of the All Party Group Lord Corbett.

The first prize winner, Switchback, works with prisoners who choose to live a life free from crime on release back to London. Prisoners prepare for release with a Switchback Mentor in the last three months of their sentence. Switchback Mentors are full-time, paid and highly skilled.

Within a week of release, trainees start work at one of Switchback’s partner training cafés, to develop skills in a working kitchen. Their mentor will be there to provide encouragement, challenging them to take control at a critical time. 45% of people reoffend within a year of release from prison in England and Wales—Switchback has a reoffending rate of 12%.

To assist them with the next stage, trainees are supported to gain work placements with employers, complete mock interviews and visits, to build their confidence and participate positively in society.

Alice Dawnay, Co-Founder Director of Switchback, said:

“The work we do at Switchback is not easy but it works. We are thrilled that the Robin Corbett Award has recognised the value of our approach. This recognition will help us to continue to build relationships that change the way offenders think about, and participate in, society, enabling them to lead stable, rewarding lives.”

The second prize winner, St Giles Trust, trains men to become Peer Advisors who provide support to their peers whilst in prison with resettlement advice, immigration and maintaining family contact. HMP Huntercombe’s population are all foreign nationals. It holds 430 people of more than 80 nationalities from around the globe, speaking up to 40 different languages and from a wide array of cultural and religious backgrounds.

Through the scheme, funded by The Bell Foundation, men are encouraged to support each other, whatever their culture, nationality, language or religion, building rapport and trust when often there is mistrust of authority. Helping to create a positive environment within the prison allows men to take advantage of the education and courses available, without concerns or distractions that there would otherwise be. The scheme also helps Peer Advisors to achieve internationally recognised qualifications that have led to full-time employment on release.

One Peer Advisor who has since been released said:

“I have successfully secured a paid job just 28 weeks after my release. My relationship with my family is growing stronger and St Giles Trust is always and still available for any help or assistance I will need in the future.”

Rob Owen OBE, Chief Executive of St Giles Trust said:

“I am delighted that this very important, innovative part of our peer-led model has reached the finals of such a prestigious award. The needs of foreign national prisoners are often little understood so I hope this accolade will help bring attention to them and enable us to develop our work further in this area.”

Chair of the judges, Lady Corbett, said:

“In a strong year of nominations, the judges were unanimous in their decision to award Switchback and the St Giles Trust first and second prize. My husband Robin thought prison should be a chance to change the direction of a life. Both charities are outstanding examples of what can be achieved by helping prisoners to help themselves.”

Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“In a bleak prison landscape it’s good to see people doing time rather than wasting time. Gaining skills and confidence and putting a sentence to good use has got to be a better way to reduce reoffending than long hours spent behind bars.”

The award received coverage in the Daily Mirror, which you can read by clicking here.