Minister of Home Affairs Wilfred Abrahams today unveiled a new prison farm programme that will see inmates receiving a stipend for their labour.
The initiative is also designed to facilitate prisoners’ reintegration into society.
Abrahams, who was speaking in the House of Assembly, said the prison’s current farm programme is under review.
“We want to use the programme to enhance the opportunity for rehabilitation, re-entry and reintegration into society. We are looking at dividing the . . . available agriculture acreage into five different farms, allowing independent farmers to have access to those farms while under the supervision of the prison,” he explained.
“They are going to use prison labour; it is not going to be free labour. [There will be] a system where the prisoners will be able to bank, or the prison can hold in trust, the stipend that the prisoners will earn while they are working on the farm.”
The Home Affairs Minister said the money being held for the inmate would assist them on their release.
“When a person serves their sentence and they go back into society, often they don’t have two cents to rub together. In many instances, they are not re-accepted by their family. They don’t have any support system in the community and they go back into the same environment which landed them in prison in the first place,” he noted.
“What this does is allow those in the programme to actually work and be productive while being able to secure some of that money as a cushion for when they are eventually released.”
Abrahams said the programme would also give the prisoner an opportunity for future employment, as long as they worked well while incarcerated.
“If I am a farmer operating in this programme and I have someone in prison who is working on the programme and they are doing well – I find them to be a good worker, I find them to be industrious – when that person comes out and they can’t find a job otherwise, or they are interested in furthering agriculture, that would be the person I first draw on,” the Home Affairs Minister said.
“It solves the other question of how we reintegrate them into society; how do we provide services to allow them to make a meaningful contribution outside, once they have served their time on the inside.”
Abrahams told the Lower House he felt very strongly about prisoners who paid they dues being reintegrated into society, and he would stand by that despite receiving criticism for that stance.
“I have a particular position as far as rehabilitation is concerned. Having been a lawyer for 25 years and having been a criminal attorney for a large part of that, I believe when you have served your time – we call it paying your debt to society – that is actually what it is,” he said.
“I took a decision that I am going to allow job opportunities for some persons who had been released from prison. I took a lot of heat for it. If you know the flack I got for that. But if the Government does not give them a chance, who will? We have to have a serious second chance approach and a serious second chance programme.”