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Supporting prisoners and ex-prisoners who are motivated to return to work and avoid re-offending

Supporting prisoners and ex-prisoners who are motivated to return to work and avoid re-offending

The Air Liquide Foundation is supporting the Wake up Café (WKF) association's back-to-work program. WKF offers programs that aim to completely rehabilitate prisoners, provide personalized individual support both inside and outside of prison, as well as a supportive community, which is essential to preventing recidivism and isolation. During their journey from prison to WKF, participants (or “wakeurs”) stay in the program until they receive a job.

Recidivism among ex-prisoners

80,000 people are released from prison each year in France, 80% of whom receive no support. Of these 80%, 59% return to prison within 5 years, and 31% within a year of release. There are many reasons for these high rates of recidivism. 48% of prisoners do not have a degree and 75% are only educated to French “CAP” vocational training certificate level or less. Lastly, 65% of new prisoners are unemployed, and the isolation of their detention then adds a further barrier to their professional integration by adding a criminal record and a hole in their CV.

Lasting reintegration for ex-prisoners

Wake up Café offers inside-out support, meaning in prison and upon release. Prisoners are guided back to work with a career plan and receive support to overcome barriers to employment.

The goal of the Air Liquide Foundation is to help 75 newly released prisoners obtain and hold onto jobs in technical fields, including with Air Liquide, while preventing them from re-offending.

more than 1,100 wakeurs supported since 2014

less than 10% of wakeurs return to prison

Support for detainees

WKF's Back-to-work Program is a support program offered in and out of prison, with an individual pathway and group workshops. The participants, or “wakeurs”, are ready and eager to rejoin society. They are supported by WKF's employment and integration officers, with no limits in terms of time. The association also works in collaboration with penitentiary integration and probation services, which are responsible for monitoring and reintegrating offenders.

The back-to-work program focuses on high-demand technical jobs, including Air Liquide jobs that are often unknown to candidates. The "Air Liquide class" of 75 wakeurs are offered the following program:

  • In prison:
    • Preparation for release with back-to-work support and a defined career plan. The partner companies, including Air Liquide, lead workshops to prepare them for employment (redoing their resumes, writing a cover letter, learning informal rules of the workplace, etc.) and present their jobs.
    • In-prison training in high-demand technical occupations supported by social impact bonds*: 2 to 6 month training courses in high-demand occupations in construction and technical and digital sectors with partner training organizations.
* A funding program for public-interest projects involving public officials, stakeholders in the social and solidarity economy and the ecological transition, as well as public or private investors, all sharing the same objective.
  • Out of prison: full-time follow-up and job preparation
    • Collective job training programs: job training workshops led by partner companies to learn more about the world of work. Visits to Air Liquide France Industrie sites are organized regularly. Presentations on these technical professions, which are often unknown to program candidates, allow them to broaden their horizons and plan their careers. 3 to 5 day internships on the sites are also offered. Employees from Air Liquide France Industrie train the eager wakeurs in safety management on industrial sites, as the safety officer position may be of interest to them.
    • Collective support for self-improvement: public speaking, philosophy cafés, lessons on law and citizenship, managing emotions, general culture, etc.
    • Individual support with an integration officer and a WKF employment officer: the ex-prisoner is given comprehensive support according to their needs: housing, healthcare, budget management, (re)learning how to live in society, etc. This is when they put together their career plan, write their resume and cover letters, and prepare for interviews. They will also receive assistance from an employee mentor in order to help them join a technical field.

Thanks to this inside-out support, as well as the training courses, internships and job fairs, the wakeurs are identified and recruited to partner companies that need workers in technical professions. WKF also continues to offer support to help them ease into their jobs.

62% positive outcomes (employment/training) since 2014

203 partner companies

FOCUS Covid-19: enhanced individual support

In 2020, thousands of people were released from prison early during the first lockdown to free up space in prisons, without any preparation for release or short-term plan.

With the elimination of in-prison release preparation programs during the health crisis, WKF has consolidated its program with the support of the Air Liquide Foundation. The association now offers:

  • Personalized follow-up by integration officers, a psychologist and WKF educational managers on all the difficulties encountered by detainees: housing, healthcare, administrative procedures, employment, etc. The role of educational managers was increased in 2021 after new problems arose during the crisis, lockdowns and post-lockdowns: increasingly complex family relationships, an even more conflictual relationship with authority, anxiety and depression, etc.
  • Intensive three-week job preparation courses:
    • resume workshops, interview simulations, a presentation on informal rules of the workplace, a career presentation, job coaching, introductory work placements and training internships with partner companies;
    • two-month personalized coaching for wakeurs who have the most difficulties finding employment and who left prison early during the first lockdown without any preparation.
  • A self-improvement program with group workshops: philosophy cafés, positive communication, elocution, art therapy, sports, cultural and nature outings, teamwork, volunteering with other associations.
  • An emergency fund for wakeurs the most at risk upon release from prison.

Wake up Café

What the Air Liquide Foundation is doing

The Air Liquide Foundation is helping to set up the back-to-work program in Paris, Montreuil, Lyon, Marseille and Nantes, and is covering the salaries of the WKF integration and employment officers. The foundation connects WKF and Air Liquide employees through site visits, business presentations, safety training and mentoring. 

In 2020 and 2021, the foundation had already supported WKF, helping it set up job preparation and self-improvement programs, with a focus on enhanced individual monitoring during the Covid-19 health crisis. The association also set up an integration program within the partner companies.


The back-to-work program is both ambitious and realistic, building on existing initiatives and a seasoned team. This comprehensive, open-ended approach is consistent with Air Liquide and its foundation’s focus on long-term, foundational projects designed to meet a critical social challenge. 

Cécile Dumont Saint Priest, Human Resources Manager, Air Liquide France Industrie