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Could social solutions be the answer to some of our social problems?

Formerly incarcerated people have some of the worst health, economic and social outcomes of all Australians. One in six lack stable housing and 60% are still without a job six months after release, which rises to nearly 70% for those with mental health issues.

This is against a backdrop of low education levels, low proficiency in literacy and numeracy, limited work history and a lack of skills or work experience to be competitive in a job market that is increasingly so.


It is little wonder then that more than half of people in prison in Australia will reoffend and return within two years.


These are social problems. They stretch beyond the prison system and into our communities, our social systems and our governments.


workRestart advocates for employment and education opportunities on the inside to help break the cycle and restart lives.


Recently, we’ve been having conversations about value exchange within prisons. The modern slavery act has prompted people to consider what a fair wage for work on the inside might look like, and others to suggest more hard-line views. At workRestart, we’re interested in working to better understand and help solve these social problems.


We think we have a social solution to some of these social problems.


A social enterprise is a type of business that directs its profits towards its social mission, rather than shareholders.


Under the current model of work in prisons, the main value from work an incarcerated person does is provided to the prison (in reduced costs) or a private enterprise (in increased profits). This current model achieves a 46% recidivism rate, so there is little value that is transferred to the individual on their release.


If a social enterprise was the business providing work opportunities inside, the profits of doing so would be channelled back into helping the people ‘working’ for them.

Ideally, this would look like training, skill development and next day out employment opportunities that would help formerly incarcerated people to get back on their feet on release and help provide access to mainstream employment.


The additional benefit of this model is that those working on the inside feel a sense of purpose and contribution, as they are working for a social enterprise. workRestart is a not-for-profit social enterprise, which is something, in our experience, inmates prefer.


Under the social enterprise model, incarcerated people gain value from:

· On the job work experience both in technical and soft skills, with a team who are not part of the prison system

· An employment pathway on release; and

· A dedicated organisation and support network focused on their future and unlocking their potential to positively contribute to their communities.


Value is delivered back into the prison system via lower recidivism rates. Currently, under workRestart’s social enterprise model, the recidivism rate is 8.3% which represents a significant saving on the current 46% rate.


While incarcerated people can’t earn an income on the inside, there are ethical alternatives that provide value for the work they do and can help to reduce the vicious cycle of recidivism.


Call us biased, but we believe social enterprises are a critical part of the solution.

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