CUMBRIA Chamber invited members and other local businesses to Haverigg Prison to explore ways of employing prisoners and ex-offenders. 

Haverigg, which is situated near Millom in South Cumbria, is a Category D prison meaning that prisoners are housed in open conditions. 

To qualify for Category D status, prisoners undergo a stringent review process and are required to be engaged in full-time work or training in preparation for release into communities all over the UK.

Through organising these events with HMP Haverigg, Cumbria Chamber aims to address the current labour shortage in Cumbria and give businesses the opportunity to explore alternative options for recruitment.

There’s also the wider social aim of rehabilitating prisoners and reducing reoffending rates, as evidence has shown that employment reduces the chance of reoffending among prison leavers significantly.

In Cumbria: Prisoners also look after a number of animals including chickens, ducks and a small flock of Herdwick sheep.Prisoners also look after a number of animals including chickens, ducks and a small flock of Herdwick sheep. (Image: Cumbria Chamber)

After check-in, attendees were given a tour of the prison, which started in the joinery and construction areas, where prisoners can earn accredited qualifications in trades including bricklaying, plastering, tiling and, bathroom and kitchen fitting.

After the tour, attendees met with prisoners due for release or eligible for release on temporary licence (ROTL), which allows them to undertake work placements with local businesses outside the prison, after completing an extensive risk assessment and testing process.

Attendees then collected CVs and inquired about skills and experience. 

Eve Halliday, head of commercial and business growth, at Cumbria Chamber said: "The skills shortage in Cumbria poses a real threat to businesses and the local economy, and it’s not going to be resolved any time soon unless we get creative about how we tackle it.

"Our trips Haverigg Prison have been enlightening and educational, without a single attendee who said it was exactly what they thought it would be. Quite the opposite actually!

"It’s reassuring to learn about the stringent checks and processes in place to make sure these prisoners are suitable for a Category D open prison. If there’s even a hint of concern they aren’t ready, they don’t go. It’s really is that simple.

"Getting former prisoners into work is proven to reduce reoffending. Haverigg’s reoffending rate is much lower than the national average at 8 per cent.

"So giving these prisoners a second chance is so important for protecting the communities they go back into.

"That being said, I do understand and accept that it needs to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis with potential employers deciding precisely what they and their workforce are comfortable with. There is no right and wrong in that respect, but having the conversation is a starting point.

"If hiring ex-offenders is something that you might be willing to try, please attend our next visit to Haverigg Prison," she said.