New Lower Hutt café Trade School Kitchen helping ex-prisoners rebuild their lives

A new café in Lower Hutt wants to help ex-prisoners rebuild their lives by employing them as its baristas.

Trade School Kitchen's motto is "jobs not jails". It hopes to tackle New Zealand's reoffending rate and save the taxpayer money in the process.

"That idea of hospitality being this great connector, and this great convivial social space for people with these histories to become their best selves in just felt like a really amazing idea," Trade School Industries Trust chair Matt Lamason told Newshub.

Trade School training and reintegration manager Lauren Tennent has been giving barista training at Arohata Prison in Tawa for four years. She says without the training, women's trade options are limited to the kitchen or laundry.

"A lot of them are lining up to learn so they can have a skill on release."

After visiting a café in Los Angeles that employed former gang members, Mr Lamason was inspired to do something similar here, and employ the graduates of Ms Tennent's Arohata programme. The result is Trade School Kitchen.

"A lot of the women we're training, and the relationships that we were making with the women inside, just ended and stayed inside," he says. "There wasn't that continuity to life outside and we really wanted to do something about that."

The café will take on two women at a time and they won't be employed long-term. But they'll get experience and support to then apply their skills in the wider industry, and make way for new employees in the process.

"We plan to have them working here for about six months, and then at that point we'll assess and see whether they need to stay here longer or move them into a different role, or whether we shepherd them then into the industry," says Ms Tennent.

"Some of them have been going in and out for years now, 10 years; they're seeing a light - that that cycle of offending might be broken now."

The café's set to open in Naenae in August and there's still a bit of construction to go, so Trade School has set up a PledgeMe to help fund fitting it out.

Mr Lamason and Ms Tennent say the initiative is about collaboration, not competition, and are keen for other people to pick up the idea around the country as well.

New Zealand's reoffending rate is 48 percent, and each inmate costs the taxpayer $100,000 a year. Reintegration solutions like the café hope to address that.

"Breaking down that stigma and discrimination against them, welcoming them into our communities and accepting them and supporting them, I think will drop that rate down pretty fast," says Ms Tennent.

Breaking down barriers, over a cuppa - that's something worth waking up for.