Coun Gerry Harper was served food and given a presentation by inmates involved in the education programme at HMP Leeds yesterday.
The visit aimed to highlight the prison’s work to stop the “revolving door” of people returning to jail after committing the same crimes after release.
Following a tour of the site Coun Harper was told about Information, Advice and Guidance courses, which put prisoners in a work-like setting to get them ready for employment.
Justin Drake, head of reducing re-offending, said: “We are trying to mirror what’s happening in the community in every way.”
Armley Prison education worker David Tilley said that one of the biggest issues is getting companies to see those in jail as potential workers.
Adam Barnes, 33, who was imprisoned after dealing drugs, hopes his level two hospitality barista course will help him get stable work after his release, due in December.
“I’m trying my best to stay out,” he said.
“I’m trying to get qualifications. I’ve promised my family I won’t do it anymore – you get to a certain age where enough’s enough.
“I started from a young age and it seemed to be the norm, but it’s not. I’m hoping to get work with a family friend or through the Job Centre.
“Otherwise it’s a vicious circle. I’ve had plenty of help so I’m sure I will able to get a job.”
He said that the opportunities to develop skills in jail have improved since one of his previous stints inside.
“It makes you feel like you’re not a criminal anymore,” he said.
All prisoners must work towards basic English and Maths if they do not have those.
But the prison offers other courses such as IT and hospitality.
And it is training people in Indian cuisine with the hope of later getting them work in Leeds or Bradford – both said to be in need of more chefs for Asian outlets.
Christopher Taylor, 30, who was also sent to prison after drug dealing, said: “Coming to jail has been a real eye-opener. I just wouldn’t want jail for anyone. Although there are some bad people on the wing, there’s also a great deal of good lads.”
He later told the mayor that his classes have been a “life-changing experience”.
Coun Harper said: “People all to often just want prisoners locked up and to throw away the key. It’s never going to change people’s lives.”