Longford Prize: The Clink – a prison diner no one wants to escape

 

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Its ambitious menu includes crispy Stilton quenelles, slow-cooked spice pork cheeks and home-made crab ravioli. But you have to be patient to get a table at The Clink, which has become so popular that it is fully booked until January.

What makes it unique among fashionable eateries that emerge all the time is that it is the first, and so far only, commercial restaurant operating out of a British prison.

Before being shown to tables, diners have to go through security checks and hand over valuables and mobile phones. Most of the chefs, waiters and cleaners are inmates at High Down prison in Banstead, Surrey, hoping for a new start in life after their release. The results have been highly impressive, with the majority of "graduates" of The Clink landing prestigious catering jobs on the outside. Now the concept is about to be rolled out to several other jails.

For its innovative and effective work with offenders, The Clink will tonight receive the Longford Prize, sponsored by The Independent and named after the penal and social reformer Lord Longford, who died in 2001. The award recognises "outstanding qualities of humanity, courage, persistence and originality" in penal or social reform.

The Clink is the brainchild of Alberto Crisci, the jail's catering manager, who was already training inmates to cook and prepare food before he hit on the idea of serving gourmet fare to paying customers. The aim was that offenders would receive work experience and gain qualifications to prepare them for well-paid jobs in catering.

A storeroom was converted into an 85-seat restaurant and opened for business in May 2009. This year it has served 25,000 meals – 12,000 to the public, including prospective employers and local clubs and the rest to prison staff.

All but two of The Clink's "graduates" have avoided getting into trouble after release, a rate that compares favourably with levels of re-offending among the UK's general prison population.

The rest have all landed good jobs, including one at a Michelin-starred restaurant in central London and another in a four-star hotel in Sussex.

Chris Moore, chief executive of The Clink, said: "People think prisoners are bad, mad thugs. But a lot of them are like you and me, but happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We have a long list of people willing to consider interviewing ex-offenders."

Snow asks why no heads rolled over credit crunch

The Channel 4 presenter Jon Snow last night questioned why no major City figure had been prosecuted over the financial crisis three years ago. Delivering the annual Longford Lecture, sponsored by The Independent, he doubted that every action by every investment banker during that period was above board.

He said: "I can't believe that you have an event so searing, so terribly destructive, as the global meltdown of 2008 without what you and I might recognise as a crime or an element of crime. But how many are behind bars?" He suggested that bodies such as the Serious Fraud Office were struggling to grapple with complex financial systems.

Snow protested that it was the innocent paying the price of the banks' mismanagement, such as the one million young unemployed adults being "punished for the fiscal failures of their elders".

He took a swipe at companies for registering their headquarters in tax havens, saying: "It's not a crime, it's legal, but it doesn't feel right." Snow also spoke of other innocent victims of crime such as the musician Carla Rees who lost a collection of valuable flutes when her home was burnt out in the summer's riots.

Nigel Morris

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