Project Claustrum: making justice work for the Armed Forces

The Ministry of Justice and MOD have come together in Project Claustrum, a collaborative procurement venture that enables UK prisoners to produce military equipment, thereby re-shoring procurement and saving taxpayers’ money while building inmates’ skills. Two years into the project, MOD DCB features editor Julie Shennan caught up with Project Claustrum OGD Lead Manager Michelle Downer to discuss its progress.

Founded in 2014, Project Claustrum (Latin for prison) is a joint initiative between the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice which enables prisoner workshops to produce non-ballistic supplies for the MOD.

Headed by ONE3ONE Solutions (part of the National Offender Management Service), Project Claustrum aims to combine efficient government procurement with prison employment.

Project Claustrum OGD Lead Manager, Michelle Downer, said: “We produce items for the MOD, through a contract with Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), which in turn creates jobs for prisoners and saves the Government money.”

These cost savings partially come through the reduced red tape when one government body buys from another. However, this collaborative procurement was not without its challenges, as Ms Downer explained.

She said: “Every different government department has its own systems and ways of working, so the challenge for us was breaking them down and trying to understand each of their capabilities.

“This new approach ended up working in favour of both the MOD and MOJ, as it challenged both departments to learn from each other and develop their processes.”

As well as reducing bureaucracy, Project Claustrum will generate procurement savings by moving production of some MOD supplies back to the UK, from outside the European Union.

Ms Downer explained: “Government ministers realised that they could re-shore defence items by producing them with the Ministry of Justice and in the process help to rehabilitate prisoners. So the MOD and the MOJ started working together as a team.”

Among the first MOD supplies to be produced or refurbished under Project Claustrum were those that may have otherwise been imported from the Far East; such as Demountable Rack Offload and Pickup System (DROPS), toolkit and jack repairs, as well as flat racks, sand bags and camouflage nets.

Ms Downer commented: “We are now investigating the idea of producing vehicle covers, heavy duty canvases and other MOD goods through Project Claustrum.

“Workers within the project are skilled in engineering, textiles, woodwork and print; so the possibilities of what we can offer the MOD are endless.”

MOD workloads are matched to specific Project Claustrum workshops after joint consideration from DE&S and ONE3ONE Solutions. The matches are made by aligning the type of work required to the skills, facilities and types of prisoners available.

Ms Downer continued: “Working on Project Claustrum helps upskill the prisoners; it gives them the chance to rehabilitate, change their lives and become something different in the future.”

Early indications suggest the project has the potential to reduce re-offending, by enabling prisoners to gain new skills and meaningful future employment. In the course of 2016 alone Project Claustrum is expected to have provided regular work for more than 1000 prisoners.

Ms Downer added: Our workers take great pride in what they are doing; we have a number of ex-Servicemen in our custody and we can see the sense of satisfaction they get coming to work every day.”

This satisfaction – Ms Downer explained – partially comes from making something that the prisoners know could save lives on the battlefield.

She said: “Even small items such as toolboxes or camouflage nets are all vital pieces in keeping our troops safe and operational.”

Securing quality MOD supplies and benefits to prisoners are Project Claustrum’s main concerns; however, they are not met at the expense of the wider community.

As ONE3ONE Solutions’ website explains: “We will look for opportunities to support the economy and in particular Small or Medium Enterprises, and to help retain or provide jobs in the community.

“We will not take work where we know that doing so will be the direct and sole cause of jobs in the community being substituted without replacement, and commit in such situations to having at least a neutral overall effect. We will seek to understand and be sensitive to the economic conditions of where the work is delivered, and Governors and Directors are encouraged to work with local partners to ensure this.”

Project Claustrum is still in its early years, having piloted in English and Welsh prisons to produce goods to meet the Operational Infrastructure Programme’s Land Equipment requirements. However, DE&S is examining other areas where the project could successfully be applied.

Ms Downer concluded: “The support that the collaboration has received so far has been key to its success; and it can only get better!”

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