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The ‘Prisoners of Purpose’ programme, initiated by Staff Welfare Officer and Chaplain of the Prisons, Ms Faye Clarke, was initiated three years ago and aims to change the mindset, attitude, focus and behaviour of prisoners, thus allowing them to function in society.
According to Ms. Clarke, building prisons is not a solution to the myriad of problems facing society. Rather, there has to be “ongoing effective rehabilitation programmes, which would not only intercept the life of crime of an individual. We must remember that statistics show that if a man or woman enters or becomes part of the cycle of crime, then his children are also likely to get involved in a life of crime," she pointed out.
The scheme operates under the theme ‘Redeeming time and realigning purpose’.
The inmates who go through this programme are exposed to teachings that would help them develop not only literacy skills, but self-enhancement ones as well, such as how to set goals and objectives, and how to plan for their future.
The scheme includes a literary workshop where the inmates are taught how to compose songs, write short stories, devotionals and poems.
They also learn how to design logos and mottos.
The music programme initiated in the prisons does not only teach students to play instruments; it provides them with the theoretical framework as well as the practical aspect. Relatives of these inmates make a contribution by donating instruments.
The Prison also has its own steel orchestra - the Republican Steel Orchestra - which copped the top prize last year in Mash celebrations.
Noting that the responsibility to rehabilitate prisoners does not rest solely with the prison administration, Ms. Clarke said: "Persons (in the community) need to realise that it is imperative that they are willing to give prisoners a chance".
People generally discriminate against ex-convicts when they re-enter society since the stigma is still attached, she said but it is important for the society to understand that after a prisoner is released he would have served his term of punishment for the crime committed and he is entitled to be given the opportunity to rehabilitate.
The programmes for rehabilitation serve to provide inmates with the opportunity to learn a trade so that when they re-enter society, they would be equipped with the tools to honestly fend for themselves.
The workshops for tailoring and furniture-making also provide inmates with some finance, which they receive after serving their sentences. The materials that are produced by the prisoners are sold during exhibitions, and some of the proceeds go to the prisoners.
The response to the programme in the prisons has been good, since many people have not been given these opportunities before. The programme caters for beginners, since many persons did not attend school and did not learn to read and write.
Inmates are also allowed to write the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) examination and have been known to pass with encouraging grades. Photography is also being taught at the Timehri prison.
The programmes provide inmates with tangible opportunities to improve not only their behaviour but also their focus, anti-social behaviour, mindset and attitude.
At the New Amsterdam prison, where women are sent to serve their sentences, programmes have also been implemented. The women are taught craft, cooking, sewing and hairdressing. The women are also engaged in canning items such as pepper sauce and pickles.
Farming is also done at the prisons throughout the country, which serves to teach the prisoners agricultural skills. (Rekha Budhna)