Reform over punishment in Shabarghan prison
SHABARGHAN PRISON (PAN):Asadullah is too busy to even glance upwards as he speaks. As he expertly kneads cookie dough and feeds it into a machine, he says: “I am proud that I can send some money to my family. I make about 4,500 afghanis per month.”
Asadullah is not your average bakery worker. He is a convict serving a 16-year term for murder at Shabarghan prison in Afghanistan’s northern Jowzjan province. “I have been working in the prison bakery since I started my sentence four years ago,” says Asadullah, an expression of regret at his crime flashing momentarily through his eyes. “After my release, I want to start a bakery and lead an honourable life. I have two sons and I don’t want them to tread a path of crime like I did.”
Shabarghan prison, which has 750 detainees, including 38 women, has adopted behavioural reform techniques rather than just punishment to help detainees support their families and give them a chance at life once they are released.
General Andullah Azizi, the prison chief, says: “We have three workshops – pastry-making, tin work and carpet weaving – in which 120 prisoners are employed. Another 120 are enrolled in literacy courses run with the help of the Critical literacy Administration. They have 12 teachers. No women attend these courses and only those who have been awarded sentences are included.”
Several prisons across the world follow such reform models. New Delhi’s Tihar prison model has been acclaimed over the years and adopted by several Asian countries. In Tihar’s jail factory, convicts are taught trades such as weaving and carpentry. The money made from the sales of their products goes to the convicts, after costs are deducted, with 25% dedicated to the Victim Welfare Fund. In 2009-10, about 800 convicts were scheduled to be part of the programme.
In Shabarghan, Azizi says: “Sales are based on contracts awarded by carpet merchants, bakery owners and tin work businessmen.”
Shabarghan’s prison factory earns 2.5 million afghanis a year, with 60% of the profit going to the detainees.The rest is spent on prison expenditure.
Nick Muhammad, 43, an inmate, says: “I have been part of the tin works for the past two years. The jail management collects orders from around the city for the heaters, pans, buckets and other things that we make. I manage to send 4,000 afghanis a month to my family. I am also part of the literacy class and have learned to read and write.”
Ghulam, from Aqcha district, works in the carpet weaving workshop. He was convicted for theft and sentenced to two years. “My economic condition compelled me to commit robbery. In the past six months, I have weaved three nine-metre carpets and made 4,000 afghanis on each carpet. When I am released, I want to start a business. Now I want to learn how to read and write,” he says.
Sociologists give the prison programme the thumbs up. “Prisoners’ participation in such efforts will change their mentality. Once they are released, they can start businesses and change the negative perception of society towards them,” says Khudai Qul Aimaq, a professor at Jowzjan University.
Prisoners’ families are happy too.
“My son was sentenced to eight years after he ran over somebody, killing him. At the cookie-making workshop, he earns 3,000 afghanis each month, which he sends to us,” says Abdul Hameed, 62.
Nooullah, head of the local traders’ union, said the prison products are of good quality and find ready buyers.
Azizi says he now plans to expand the programme. “We want to involve the women prisoners in the bakery, which will free up the male prisoners for the manufacturing workshops,” he says.
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