JIS News

Many inmates at some of the island’s correctional institutions are getting a second chance at a productive life, having been presented with the opportunity to learn skills, which will better equip them to provide for themselves and their families when they are released.
The inmates who are specially selected through the Correctional Services Production Company (COSPROD) are involved in various areas of agriculture as well as woodwork, block making, and welding.
Late last year the operation got a further boost when a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) for the provision of technical assistance in all areas of agricultural production.
Chief Executive Officer of COSPROD, Allan Walker explains to JIS News that the JAS was asked to assist with training equipment as well as all technical assistance in order to further develop the Correctional Services farm, particularly the Richmond Farm Adult Correctional Centre in St. Mary.He informs that so far two training seminars have been held, with the most recent one involving personnel from Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) coming in to assist with training in vegetable production, marketing strategy and record keeping.
This, he says is in addition to the equipment they have received on loan from the JAS. “Right now at Tamarind Farm over 45 acres of land have been ploughed for us by the JAS tractor. In St. Mary, they were also doing some ploughing for us but because of the intense weather we are not able to do much in the tilling of the soil so that tractor has been withdrawn, but the one at Tamarind Farm is still there,” he explains.
He further informs that already some three acres of calaloo has been planted at Tamarind Farm, as well as an acre of Pak Choi, approximately two acres of cassava, an acre and a half of cucumber and an acre and a half of pumpkin. Another 30 acres of land is being prepared to facilitate the planting of cotton.
Meanwhile over at Richmond Farm in St. Mary the crops, which have already been planted, include corn, calaloo, string beans and cucumber. The land is also being prepared for the production of banana. Mr. Walker explains that the institution once had a large banana farm, which was later destroyed, however they hope to get this up and running again as early as next month.
Once the crops are grown, both the institution and the inmates will benefit from its proceeds. As Mr. Walker explains, “once the crops are ready for harvesting we have to dialogue with the procurement section of the Correctional Service Department to get their quota that is required to feed all the correctional institution in the island. Once we have met their quota, whatever surplus we have we will sell it through the central marketing system of the JAS as well as some clients that we are supplying at present.”
Not only do the inmates get an opportunity to learn skills in agriculture but there is also an incentive scheme, which sees the inmates receiving money for their labour upon their release from prison.
Explaining how this works, Mr. Walker says, “each day when the inmate comes to work his name is recorded and at the end of each month a tally is done as to how many days he has worked. When the date of release comes all these records are checked and all this money is paid over to the inmate.”
Turning to the very intriguing concept of growing cotton, Mr. Walker informs that the process is being ably guided. The idea of cotton farming, he says, was introduced to COSPROD by Johnson’s Organic Fertilizer Company. In regards to marketing, Mr. Walker explains that there is a factory in Old Harbour, St. Catherine, which COSPROD would supply.
“We have actually plough a portion of the land and we are expecting the tractor to plough some more so we can have all 60 acres of land ready by next week. Once this is done we will begin planting the cotton and we expect it to mature in seven to eight months,” he discloses.
Another area that COSPROD hopes to cash in on is animal husbandry. Currently they are involved in pig, cattle and sheep rearing. However Mr. Walker says he hopes to expand the pig rearing aspect.
“We are making preparation to expand on the piggery. A matter of fact we wanted to try our hands at doing ham last Christmas but when we looked around for persons to produce for us, because of the cost involved we could not afford it at that time but we are now making preparation for December coming,” he says, adding that on the 8th of February there will be an extensive training programme involving personnel from the Pig Farmers Association who will provide training in the new pig rearing technologies, from creating the sophisticated pens through to artificial insemination.
The plans for expansion will also include the building of some new poultry houses to expand on egg production and broiler meat production.
“Our objective is to train as many inmates as possible in all the areas of agriculture so that when they should have left our care they will at least be able to employ themselves and feed their family from their farm,” Mr. Walker says.
In addition to agriculture Mr. Walker explains that the inmates are also doing very well in the area of woodwork, and plans are in place for further expansion of that particular skills area. “At present we are involved with it only at Tower Street but we are looking at expanding it to Richmond Farm and Tamarind Farm where we have inmates who are able to work longer hours in woodwork than we have at Tower Street,” he says.
Mr. Walker points out that the inmates involved in the programme are highly motivated, which have caused many others to be eager to participate. Unfortunately because of limited space, he says, they are unable to accept everyone.
“Especially in the area of the woodwork some inmates when they came here they did not know a thing about it but they joined up with the Trade Centre and today they are able to build items on their own,” he says. He however notes that one of the problems faced by the inmates is that they are unable to properly utilize their skills when they leave, as they are unable to gain employment because of having a criminal record. “They are trained to establish themselves but the difficulty they face is that machines are very costly, and they cannot approach lending agencies because they don’t have collaterals,” he points out.
To address this issue, Mr. Walker says COSPROD is trying to seek some form of assistance for these inmates upon their release. “At the time of their release or approaching the time, we could speak with some agency to see if we could get some assistance for them so that upon their release they may be able to get a few pieces of basic tools so they can start something on their own and grow into business from there,” he informs.
The CEO also points out that President of the JAS, Senator Norman Grant had promised that the Society would register those inmates who want to continue working in agriculture upon their release, as members. This will see them being offered technical support that will be needed to establish their farms and to market their crops.
For now, Mr. Walker explains that COSPROD’s main objective is to train as many inmates from the Tower Street, Tamarind Farm and Richmond Farm institutions as possible, in order to positively influence their attitude and behaviour for their return to the general population. “We would have done our part in helping in the reduction of crime and violence in the country and we would have transformed or reformed these guys to be citizens who can sit into society and abide by the law and become productive,” he says.
Already, Mr. Walker says there are many instances of success of the participants. He made reference to the Hurricane Ivan period when there was great difficulty completing jobs in the woodwork shop at Tower Street, and inmates who were trained in the programme came back to assist with the heavy work load.