Give inmates real jobs in prison, urges top doctor

YOUNG offenders should be given jobs while in prison that they keep after release, as a way of tackling reoffending, Sir Harry Burns has said.

Scotland’s chief medical officer has called for philanthropic entrepreneurs to launch US-style social enterprises to get former criminals into work.

His ideas are based on the success of projects like the Delancey Street Foundation, in San Francisco, which has founded restaurants and home removal companies, and Homeboy Bakery, which employs former gang members.

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Home removals has not proved too much of a stretch for some. “One guy said, ‘Well, I’m just doing what I always did, but this time I put the stuff back,” Sir Harry said.

Scotland’s senior medic will be addressing the issue of health inequality and offending at a Howard League Scotland lecture this evening.

Passionate about early intervention, he wants a three-stage approach to helping inmates at Polmont young offenders institute, starting with counselling, moving onto life skills, and finishing with jobs.

“When a young man comes into prison he is going to be in a very stressed, difficult state,” Sir Harry said.

“You need to help him regain control of his fears and anxieties through talking therapies. Most of these kids don’t have normal life skills, they don’t know how to manage themselves. You can’t send them to meetings because most don’t have watches.”

There have been calls for prisoners to do work so they give something back to society.

However, Sir Harry insists he is focused on rehabilitation and not retribution.

“We should be setting up social enterprises that help them into work,” he said. “We all want meaning in our life, a sense of purpose, we should be giving them gainful employment.”

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While he does not expect Scotland to follow the exact Delancey model, he believes it offers hope.

“They run restaurants,” he said. “One of the best restaurants in San Francisco is run by them. Another thing is called Homeboy Bakery, which employs former gang members. He says he does not employ people to make bread, he makes bread to employ people.

“There must be some philanthropic entrepreneurs in Scotland, can we get a movement going?”

While Sir Harry was careful not to criticise the Scottish Prison Service, concerns have been raised about standards of rehabilitation at Polmont.

Last month, Brigadier Hugh Monro, her majesty’s chief inspector of prisons in Scotland, said it was “quite shocking” that just a third of inmates were taking part in rehabilitation or training, despite £65 million spent on the facility since 2007, following an inspection.

The Scottish Conservatives have been among those calling for prisoners to be given jobs.

Scottish Conservative Chief whip John Lamont said: “Giving prisoners work is a win-win situation for everyone.”

The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) revealed it is looking at potential schemes.

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A spokeswoman said: “Our chief executive Colin McConnell has recently indicated his intention to explore ways in which the Scottish Prison Service can better equip young offenders for employment when they are released from custody.”