The government of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu is expanding a program that allows prison industries to compete in the open marketplace under the ironic brand name “Freedom.” Prison industry programs already exist at nine central prisons, three women’s prisons and nine district jails scattered across Tamil Nadu, located in the southern tip of the Asian nation. The facilities hold a combined total of about 11,000 prisoners.
Prison authorities are adding open-air bazaars to market fresh produce grown by prisoners to shoppers from neighboring communities. The bazaars are in addition to current prison industries that include the production of soap, leather, textiles, books and baked goods. Traditionally, those products have been sold only to other government agencies and are considered substandard.
“So far, we were manufacturing goods for the police and other departments. Such government clients are not very demanding in terms of pricing, delivery schedule and quality, although we ourselves try to maintain this,” said S.K. Dogra, Additional Director-General of Police in Tamil Nadu. “But once you operate in the open market, you have to adopt the best commercial practices. So, naturally the entire process of manufacturing will have to move up the scale in terms of efficiency and quality.”
Providing prisoners with skills they can use to obtain jobs after their release is a major objective of the program. Prison officials said they have identified individuals who are qualified to provide training to prisoners in the use of modern manufacturing technology. Additionally, a portion of the revenue generated by the sale of prison-made goods on the open market is earmarked for prisoners’ accounts.
The expansion of the “Freedom” label includes a jail in Ondipudur, in the western part of the state, where prisoners have taken to farming. Under the watchful eye of guards, they sell their produce in a newly-created bazaar on the facility grounds.
P. Govindarajan, Deputy Inspector General of Prisons in nearby Coimbatore, said the bazaar is an effort to both rehabilitate and re-socialize prisoners. One of the prisoners at the facility said the program has allowed him to pursue his goal of becoming a farmer. “Life took me elsewhere, but I am finally living my childhood dream,” said “Madhu,” a prisoner whose real name was not disclosed, in February 2014.
Another prisoner said the program gave him a sense of fulfillment. “It was a very proud moment to see something I’d planted give fruit,” he said, holding an ear of corn he had grown.
Prison officials said the profits from the bazaar are shared among prisoners, prison staff and the Tamil Nadu government, with each receiving 20% of the net proceeds. The remaining 40% is placed in a state prison fund.
On February 23, 2014, Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa inaugurated a “Freedom Shop” in the Puzhal prison complex in eastern India, to serve as a market for prisoner-produced goods; the shop includes a bakery, a waiting hall for visitors and other facilities.
A press release said the Chief Minister directed that “Freedom Shops” be opened in all central Indian prisons to market goods made by prisoners. The initiative is part of the state’s effort to reform prisoners and provide them with training to help them live a decent life after they complete their sentences.
Products for sale include garments, bakery items, footwear, soaps, candles, mosquito nets, rain coats and more, all manufactured by prisoners. In addition, the program is providing agricultural training to prisoners at two other facilities in Singanallur and Salem.
“I do not see any difficulty in marketing the products,” said Dogra. “Many of the prison inmates are highly skilled. Since they do not have any diversions within the prison, they usually work with greater focus.”
Taken from a different perspective, however, Dogra’s comments could portend abuse of the system. Because prisoners “do not have any diversions,” which makes them good workers, prison authorities may have an incentive to prevent the introduction of any “diversions” – such as educational, treatment or other rehabilitative programs – to ensure that prisoners focus on their profit-generating prison industry jobs.
Sources: www.thehindu.com, http://m.newindianexpress.com
(Reprinted with Permission from Prison Legal News)