The blog is produced within the framework of EU-funded project „Monitoring Government’s Commitments and Promoting the Reforms in the Penal Sector through the Engagement of CSOs“ implemented by Penal Reform International together with the partner organizations: Rehabilitation Initiative of Vulnerable Groups and Human Rights Center.
About three years ago, I started working on the project “Education for Reintegration – A Way to Return to Society”, one of the goals of which was the economic integration of people in conflict with the law through the establishment of the social enterprises. My experience at the time dictated that it was impossible to integrate the former prisoners without the help of a psychologist. I always thought that urgent support for ex-convicts in the first place was the understanding of the crime and regaining personal dignity.
People in contact with the penitentiary system always have an opinion if what might be best for a prisoner. In an environment where lessons learned are scarce and theoretical, the initiative has no research support, we draw conclusions based on our interpretation, and we forget the best interests of the prisoner. Often, these interpretations prevent us from effective project planning or policies.
Alongside the progression of the project, my views have also changed and the reality has shown me that employment is often the first step towards rehabilitation. At the expense of the ongoing reforms in Georgia and the activity of civil society organizations, the employment of convicts in prisons is slowly becoming a priority. Employment is more important to a former convict and prisoner than just financial income. Decent employment can engage a prisoner in a daily routine and create an opportunity for social interaction. Decent employment is a prerequisite for a prisoner to restore personal dignity, self-confidence, and self-efficacy. Employment income also simplifies the preparation for release and reduces the risks of social support dependency from the family and the state. When we talk about the decent employment of a prisoner, we necessarily mean the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (“Nelson Mandela’s Rules”, Rule 96), which specifies the standards of employment of prisoners and outlines the activities that may violate his/her dignity.
To prevent a crime, the employment of former convicts and prisoners at the national level has a greater workload. International studies confirm that the employment of former convicts and prisoners significantly reduces recidivism. In 2011, the European Council of Quakers (QCEA) published a report summarizing the statistical data on the employment status of convicts in member states before and after their detention. If we consider the example of Berlin (Germany), about 75% of the accused (E) were unemployed before the sentencing. In Kosovo, their number is 70%, and the number of unemployed has increased to 90% after serving their sentences. To get an idea of Georgia, it is enough to know that the crime statistics have not changed for years, and quantitatively “crime against property” exceeds other types of crime. These data do not imply that the causes of crime can only be explained by poverty and unemployment, although we can all draw conclusions based on our experience.
In 2018, as part of the project, we had a study visit to the Heidering Prison, a high-risk institution in Berlin, where 75% of convicts are employed. Both the prison management culture and the attitude of the staff towards the convicts are aiming at protecting the best interests of the prisoner and offering a choice to all convicts. They can choose whether to serve the sentence in a cell or to be employed in one of two large enterprises. Convicts receive at least 9 euros per day as compensation, from which a certain percentage is collected on a personal account and only after release they are given access to the accumulated amount. Although most of the jobs in Berlin’s penitentiary establishments are created by the Ministry of Justice itself, two enterprises in the Heydaring prison have been launched by private businesses. The main motivator for business, in this case, is the low pay of employees and the social responsibility of the business company itself.
Self-employment is also considered to be one of the most successful models of employment for prisoners, there are many such cases in Georgia as well. However, collective forms, such as social entrepreneurship, can not only create stable employment opportunities, but also equip convicts with specific professional skills, teach them how to be responsible towards colleagues and management, and further promote the self-employment of former convicts.
There are many successful and unsuccessful examples of the prisoners’ employment in a social enterprise according to the international practice. In one of the women’s prisons in Italy, there is an enterprise “created in prison”, where women prisoners sew vintage-style bags and accessories. The enterprise employs 14 female prisoners, and the waiting list for employment seekers often exceeds 30. The second social enterprise, by giving the importance to its history, was located in England, in a low-risk (c) institution. The enterprise was founded in 2004 by Howard League and closed in 2009. Unlike the first example, this enterprise used the intellectual resources of the convicts and first trained them, and after was ordering a variety of design products. During the project implementation, the example of both enterprises, not only for me was a guide on how to reduce the risks and pre-determine the further steps.
At the beginning of the project, then Ministry of Corrections of Georgia expressed and communicated the initiative to us to fund one of the social enterprises in the N16 low-risk facility. Although we have an “enviable” number of prisoners and probationers in Georgia, unfortunately, it was harder than we thought to find people or organizations that would participate in the contest to set up a social enterprise in prison. Our team has made every effort to find motivated people across the regions. Again, after several unsuccessful attempts, we tried our luck at the facility hoping the convicts would pass the information on to a friend or family member.
In 2019, as a result of the initiative and active participation of two convicts, a social enterprise was launched in the N16 facility in Georgia. The enterprise uses the intellectual resources of the prisoners, produces the digital orders from various countries and local organizations, and currently, employs 5 prisoners. Although during the enterprise each of them received a salary, for the prisoners the availability of the busy schedule was a more important factor. In a private conversation, one of the inmates told me that he is looking forward to weekends as I am and it is associated with the rest days.
At the stage of crime prevention and convict rehabilitation policy planning, there are already several examples of the use of social entrepreneurship as a preventive tool. In 2016, the Irish Department of Justice and Equality, developed a “New way forward – Social Entrepreneurship Strategy 2017-2019”, which aims at the economic and social integration of those in conflict with the law by promoting their employment, launching new, and cooperating with the existing social enterprises.
The Ministry of Justice of Georgia in the rehabilitation-resocialization part of the action plan for the reform of the criminal justice system in 2019-2020, took into account the popularization of the idea and support of the concept of social entrepreneurship.
While social entrepreneurship in its content implies solving a specific social problem, enterprises designed to integrate people in conflict with the law face many challenges along the way. However, with cross-sectoral cooperation and public support, it has great potential to create successful examples.
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