The world’s first ‘behind-bars’ coffee company
The world’s first ‘behind-bars’ coffee company, Redemption Roasters is on a mission to give ex-offenders a purpose beyond their sentence.
Written by HYER NEWSROOM
Founded in 2016 by old university friends Ted Rosner and Max Dubiel, a former lawyer and business consultant respectively, Redemption Roasters started as a small coffee wholesaler, built off the back of Max’s experience as a co-founder of Black Sheep Coffee. However, it was a chance encounter with a contact at the Ministry of Justice, just two years into their business, that changed everything for the pair.
It’s hardly a secret that the UK’s prison system is underfunded and overcrowded; the country has more people in prison than any other in Western Europe and, in 2022, crime is rising. These issues are made worse by the country’s re-offending rate, which is one of the worst across the continent. In fact, data shows an individual’s odds of reoffending can range between anything from 50-75%, with the highest likelihoods affecting those who served sentences of less than a year, or who have left prison within the previous 12 months.
The cause of this? Societal factors – an unstable home environment, work life, or personal life, for example – do contribute, however the biggest trait that reoffenders share is a lack of skills and purpose upon release. Stigma still exists for ex-criminals trying to enter or re-enter the workforce, and there’s still very little in terms of long-term support or rehabilitation available to them. This is the driving force behind Redemption Roasters’ ethos, and fortunately it is something they are working to correct.
“The journey starts in custody. I think one big problem with the UK criminal justice sector is that time spent in prison is not spent well.
There’s very little meaningful activity while you're serving a sentence, very few opportunities to learn new skills, and therefore you just become further marginalised – further criminalised. And once you're out, you're stuck, and you're not able to find a job.”
Max Dubiel, Co-founder at Redemption Roasters
Through their partnership with the Ministry of Justice, the coffee company offers speciality training in coffee and hospitality to current inmates of HMP The Mount (where their roastery is based) and in justice sector institutions across the country, with the aim of helping them develop the skills needed to find work upon release. This training is on-par with that needed to work in London’s most prestigious speciality coffee shops and includes everything from the sourcing of coffee and how the machinery works, all the way to grind consistency and dosage.
Graduates of the program are then given support to find work – either in one of Redemption Roasters’ ten London coffee shops, or with their employment partners. As of 2022, these partners have included Starbucks, Costa Coffee and pub retailer Greene King.
The programme has had a profound impact on their graduates. Co-founder Max has spoken about how they prevented one of their graduates from a further stint in prison, after he was charged for convictions that he had committed prior to his completed prison sentence. Through the company’s heartfelt character reference, the Magistrate
was so touched that they gave the ex-prisoner a suspended sentence rather than putting him back in prison for 18 months.
By offering a stable routine, predictable day-to-day activities and a good life structure upon release, offenders who previously may not have been able to gain or keep work have a new lease of life, with greater self-esteem and independence. And while Max recognises that the company may be unable to directly address all the needs and requirements of someone returning to the outside world, Redemption Roasters’ two full-time social workers have excellent links with other companies, charities and resources that they can also refer inmates to.
“The message we try to convey is that hiring ex-offenders, disadvantaged youth or people from underprivileged backgrounds works both ways. You have a loyal workforce made of people who soak up knowledge like a sponge. They work so much harder.”
Max Dubiel, Co-founder at Redemption Roasters
Despite taking huge strides in improving how offenders are treated both inside prison and out, the coffee roasters are far from complete in their mission. By 2025, Redemption Roasters wants to more than double its output, rising to 25 coffee shops and employing around 200 to 250 staff members. Max says he plans on around 25% of those staff members to have come from their beneficiary backgrounds. Of course, not every graduate that they train will be able to join the ranks at Redemption, which is why the company also wants to become a go-to employment agency for ex-offenders. There, they’ll continue to break down the stigma surrounding hiring individuals with a criminal history, and secure new roles for those who need it along the way.
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