Bread eaten by prisoners in the North's jails will be baked by inmates themselves under new plans to develop practical workplace skills - copying a scheme from Dublin's Mountjoy.
The proposed bakery at Hydebank Wood women and young offender’s prison in Belfast is set to produce 2,000 loaves a week for the wider prison service estate.
It will cater for the needs at Hydebank and at Northern Ireland’s only high-security prison – HMP Maghaberry near Lisburn.
The bakery, which will be up and running late in 2014, if plans progress as expected, is one of two new training projects earmarked for Hydebank.
The other is an on-site cafe for prison staff and visitors that will see offenders working in the kitchens.
Richard Taylor, governor in charge of learning and skills in the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS), said vocational training in jails had traditionally focused on joinery, plumbing, electrics and construction.
But he said a fall-off in workplace demand in those sectors had made the prison authorities look to develop other skills, such as those needed for the catering and hospitality sectors.
“We want to put a bakery into Hydebank Wood, providing the offenders with the opportunity to get those catering skills and qualifications and provide bread, rather than us purchasing it, and providing that for the prison estate,” he said.
Mr Taylor said he had recently visited Mountjoy prison in Dublin where a similar initiative has proved successful.
“They have a bakery in place that provides all of the bread for three establishments within the Dublin area,” he said.
“They are three quite large prisons and they provide, I think it is, about 7,000 loaves a week. I think ours would probably be in the region of 2,000.”
Belfast Metropolitan College has won the contract to run training courses in Hydebank and initially it will be providing catering tutors to work in both the bakery and the kitchen of the on-site cafe.
The programmes are designed so that if an offender gets released in the middle of a course, they can continue their studies at the college.
Mr Taylor explained the rationale behind trying to develop prisoner skills in the hospitality and catering sectors.
“Traditionally we have provided vocational training which have been across the four key skills – joinery, plumbing, electrician and construction – but at this minute in time that is not just connected into the economy,” he said.
While the bakery project will require investment to get it up and running – a business case is currently being drawn up – Mr Taylor predicted that it would ultimately save the prison service money.
“We are very conscious that money isn’t limitless and we are focusing on doing more with less ,” he said.