The number of women in prisons around the world is growing rapidly – up by 50% since the year 2000, compared to a rise of just 18% for men. Re-offending rates are alarmingly high and the stigma of a custodial sentence can make finding a job impossible. But women who are taught to set up their own business are bucking that trend.
It’s still dark when I meet Janet Powell early in the morning at London’s New Covent Garden market. Instantly likeable, with bright eyes and a warm smile, she seems to know everyone. Janet loves the banter with stall holders as she chooses flowers for her floristry business.
But her light-hearted manner masks a difficult past. She went to prison seven years ago and served six months of a year’s sentence for money laundering and fraud. Her release posed another challenge.
“I knew I wouldn’t be able to get a job,” she says, “I was in my 50s, I knew the minute a company did a CRB check on me, money laundering and fraud isn’t a great thing to have on your CV.”
She had always been interested in floristry so she enrolled on a course, and then with help from Startup, a charity that helps female ex-offenders set up their own businesses, she became a freelance florist.
“They paid for my laptop, business cards, website… that was the kick-start and then the business started to come in.”
Startup was founded by Juliet Hope and so far the charity has helped 1,200 women coming out of prison to develop skills they can use in self-employment. More than a quarter of them have set up on their own. These are small-scale, often mobile, businesses or market stalls.
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