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Jan Lee headshot

Prison Reforms Offenders While Serving Gourmet Meals

Words by Jan Lee

A prison in Cardiff, Wales, offered an awkward challenge to the city's 900 or so restaurants recently when its prisoner-staffed diner was named the best restaurant in the city.

The Clink Cymru restaurant, located in Wales' capital and largest city, outpaced 3- and 4-star classic Cardiff venues like Jamie's Italian, the Potted Pig and the Mint and Mustard for the top score as locals' favorite eatery. Voters weighed in on TripAdvisor, and the results of the 395 votes were picked up by the South Wales Evening Post.

The Cymru restaurant is run by the aptly named The Clink Charity, which helps establish initiatives that will give low-risk offenders opportunities for retraining and a new future. The restaurant, run and staffed by 30 Category-D prisoners (who are considered to be low risk for escape), is located at the HMP Cardiff Prison.

And in case you're wondering: No, this isn't your normal prison fare. Nor, of course, is the ambiance. Cymru's al a carte menu features starters like "duo of goat cheese and pesto, panna cotta, and spring roll," while its main courses range from "fish and chips with hand-cut fries" for the traditionalist, to "loin of venison, celeriac parmentier, sprout tops, girolles and juniper sauce." There's also the normal complement of deserts to polish off the meal.

Pay is obviously not the incentive here, since the staff only receives a stipend for their work (about $20 per 40 hours); success is. And most customers who weighed in took note of that.  "Service is phenomenal [and makes you] feel like you are in a Michelin star restaurant," said one reviewer.

"The atmosphere is very good, taking a baby to a restaurant can be an ordeal but they catered for all her needs without worrying about the mess a [1-year-old] makes," wrote another.

The charity runs four restaurants throughout Britain, including one that is slated to open in spring of 2015 in HM Styal, located in Styal, England.  Unlike the Cardiff prison, it is a closed women's prison, meaning the security is a bit tighter, but it still affords programs like The Clink's  occupational programs. The money raised in the dining room helps pay for the operation of the restaurant, whose costs are offset by a long list of private and public British charities. The Clink restaurants have also garnered elevated status by several organizations, such as the Association of Catering Excellence, which recognized the initiative in 2011.

The Clink Charity explains the motivating factors to its success on its website: The "issue of re-offending has become one of the most pressing challenges facing society today. 49 percent of prisoners released in the U.K. re-offend within the first year," it says. The number shoots up to 61 percent for those who serve less than a year.

Its five-step model of "recruit, train, audit, employ and mentor" is managed by its own employees. "That way there are no gaps for the prisoners to fall through and reoffend," explains the charity.

Image of desert: Jenny Downing 

Image of Cardiff Prison: Matt Buck

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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