Two religious leaders to launch rehab programme at Lusignan prison
By Kim Lucas
Stabroek News
June 16, 2003

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Concern over the crime situation in the country has driven two religious leaders to launch a rehabilitation programme for inmates at the Lusignan Prison on the East Coast Demerara.

The pilot project, which was approved by prison authorities, will commence on June 23 for an initial seven weeks, and is aimed at changing the attitude of convicts so they can become more productive citizens. There will be sessions three days per week, two hours each.

According to Brother Hassan Ibn Yahya, who together with Sister Ann Muhammad, will act as the primary coordinators, the programme is a response to “the challenge of the environment of the criminal.”

He further stated that the ‘New Opportunity Rehabilitation Programme’, as it is called, is designed to enhance self-esteem and establish credibility for individuals who have been incarcerated and are about to be released.

There would be three areas - Spiritual Re-Orientation, which teaches the universal principles of religion; Positive Mental Attitude, geared to help inmates to develop a mental approach that will form a sound base for the decision-making process. It also includes self-analysis, time management and planning; and the Self-Marketing aspect of the programme, which is aimed at developing and improving confidence for personal presentation. It looks, too, at contemplation, public speaking and dressing properly.

“Through 21 sessions, they will share information that will assist those participants who are open-minded to cope with what they may encounter upon their release,” Yahya stated.

In a brief interview with Stabroek News on Friday, the religious leader explained that he recognised the need for such rehabilitation of inmates, since he has been visiting the jail to minister to fellow Muslim brothers for some four years.

“I go to the prisons generally on Fridays for religious purposes. But in terms of reform, there is no real emphasis on I decided that from my experience and training, I would [assist inmates] to come back into society. Assist them in readjusting, from a mental standpoint,” Yahya told this newspaper.

According to the man, the programme is not skills-oriented, but one geared towards helping inmates to recognize their strengths and weaknesses, and also, showing them how they can turn the latter into something positive.

“When they come out [of jail], [convicts] have to have the right attitude and have to know how to go about acquiring certain things, how to seek help in light of the fact that people would be cautious of them because [of who they] are...So I thought that first they have to get connected with God...So when they go back into the society, no one can stereotype them because of the way they behave or look,” the counsellor said.

Yahya said he attempted to launch the programme since last year, but was only recently given the green light. He is optimistic about assistance from the religious and business communities, as well as from the government, since he said the coordinators would need stationery and might one day establish a formal office to expand their services for ex-prisoners.

The religious leader told Stabroek News that there would be other resource persons from time to time. But Yahya said he could not predict how prisoners would respond to such a programme. According to him, “most people forget what they learn when they get out [of prison]”.

Both coordinators are said to have had personal experience and training working in the United States. Just recently, prison authorities announced a number of new programmes to equip inmates with skills.

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