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COSPROD Brings Skills Training To Penal Institutions

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If not for the signature khaki suits, high concrete walls and fences, it would be hard to tell you are at a correctional facility, when faced with a bustling farm where fresh produce are cultivated, livestock reared and other economic activities carried out by some of Jamaica’s incarcerated.

This is the case at the Tamarind Farm Adult Correctional Centre, St. Catherine, and Brick Yard, an extension of the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre in Kingston, two of three institutions where the Correctional Services Production Company (COSPROD) operates. The Richmond Farm Adult Correctional Centre, St. Mary, is the other.

COSPROD is involved in various aspects of agriculture, as well as woodwork, block making, and welding. The company was formed in 1994, as the main vehicle for rehabilitation in the island’s male adult correctional centres. It was introduced to Richmond Farm in 1995 and Tamarind Farm in 1997, followed by Tower Street.

The objectives of COSPROD are: to provide opportunities for inmates of these institutions to receive skills training; channel their energy into organised labour, enabling them to be productive while providing food for the institutions; and making the correctional service self sufficient. The programme also enables them to eventually utilize their skills to become productive citizens.

Winston Campbell*, who works with the cassava project at Tamarind Farm, says he enjoyed the opportunities the programme gave him to learn a skill and remain active.

“Doing nothing is the hardest work, you know. When me in the prison and mi not doing nutten mi feel very tormented, mi feel frustrated. When you outside you get sunlight, you get fresh breeze, you don’t hear any whole heap of quarrelling and you working, you sweating and you physically moving, so it makes time run fast too,” he explains to the JIS News.

At Tamarind Farm, approximately 38 of the 105 acres available for farming are under cultivation.

Acting Superintendent at the Centre, Derrick Champier, says they currently grow cassava, an assortment of vegetables, dasheen, banana, sorrel, Irish and sweet potatoes, and is looking to branch out further to bring the total acreage under production. The Centre also has a broiler project, rears goats on behalf of Food for the Poor, as well as sheep and pigs.

On the seven-acre spread at Brick Yard, COSPROD trains inmates in block making and bee keeping. The inmates also learn woodworking and making custom-built furniture for customers who place orders at the facility. In addition, the farm produces about 190 dozen eggs per week, and acts a nursery for many of the crops that are grown at Tamarind Farm and Richmond Farm.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of COSPROD, Allan Walker, explains that most of the food and livestock produced by the inmates are supplied to the Department of Correctional Services for use inside the prisons. The surplus is sold to companies and individuals.

He notes that about 85 per cent of what is produced by COSPROD is consumed by the Correctional Services, fulfilling about 35 per cent of the Department’s needs. On average, COSPROD earns about $20 million per year, which it puts back into the programme and uses to pay inmates a stipend.

Many of the inmates use the stipend they receive to support their families at home. Others save it for when they are released.

A major thrust of the programme is the provision of a skill to help inmates make an honest living, when they return home. Inmates who wish to continue in any of the areas in which they receive training are also encouraged by COSPROD to do so, with COSPROD helping with start-up costs in some cases.

The need to ensure that the training is easily transferred after release, is one of the main factors informing the areas of training in which COSPROD is involved.

“We chose these areas because most of the times people, when they go back to society, can’t go into manufacturing and things like that, so we have to teach them things that they can do in their backyards,” Mr. Walker explains.

Winston Campbell is one of those who want to go into farming after release. He explains that, although he did some farming before being incarcerated, he was not very successful at it, as he did not have the proper training. Now, he has received new insights into the activity and beams with pride as he talks about the importance of his chosen field.

“Being a farmer is like you’re a soldier, you going out to war in the battlefield but only thing is you not killing people, is life you giving. So, farming is an important thing, because people look at the farmer like they downgrade farming, but farming is important and is only farming that can save us in this recession that we having,” he states proudly.

Kevin Johnson* has received training in several areas, including woodworking, block making, poultry rearing and farming, since being incarcerated. He credits COSPROD for adding to his skill set, and says he would like to pursue block making when he is released, in another six months.

He is hoping to get help in securing the machines he will need to start operating his own business.

Mr. Johnson also testifies to the rehabilitative element of the COSPROD programme which, he says, has allowed him to control his anger.

“Me was a angry man when mi out there still, but mi kind of calmer now. Prison [makes you look at] certain things and learn to calm yourself in a way where you know you nah go out there so go tek up gun, you know, nah go out there go do certain things. You know that if you do some things you [will] end up back a prison,” he tells JIS News.

Mr. Campbell says his involvement with the Tamarind Farm project has shown him that his time could be more productively used, instead of focusing on crime.

“When you see the money that you can make out of the farming, you see that crime no really pay on the road, because you can make it in the farming. You can make millions in farming..you start realise that crime is a thing that you must avoid,” he elaborates.

Several correctional officers, including the Superintendent at Tower Street, Leroy Fairweather, vouch for the rehabilitative power structured labour and skills training can have.

“We cannot sit by and say ‘just throw them in there and throw away the key’ and so on. We, at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre, try to make it as comfortable as possible throughout the time they are out of society and in our care,” he states.

“We try to prepare them and help them to have a better mindset, so that when they go out into society they will be a better person and they can contribute to society and to their family on a whole,” he explains.

Similarly, his counterpart at Tamarind Farm, Mr. Champiere, agrees that the inmates are capable of turning their lives around using the skills they learn under the programme, if they are so inclined. He also dismisses the notion that “once you are incarcerated you are no good”.

“That’s not so. We are all human beings we all make mistakes. ..It is for us to help them to rise above the waters. It’s not right to condemn anyone,” he passionately states.

*Names changed to protect the identity of individuals.

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