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Meaningful Time

Goats receive their feed.

The continued development of inmate activities - from auto mechanics to animal and fish farming - coupled with the opening of a long-anticipated vocational centre, is bringing more opportunities for inmates to engage in constructive activities, while enhancing their employability, once released.

Inmates at Her Majesty's Prison Northward are currently rearing cows, goats and tilapia and creating items as diverse as church pews, wine racks and custom engravings. The meat and produce are primarily consumed by inmates, with the excess of some items sold through local supermarkets and other venues.

Inmates also undertake much of the work required at the prison, including the construction of the 7,200 square-foot work vocational centre and a 5,000 square-foot greenhouse.

Northward's Acting Facilities Manager (and long-time prison officer) Michael Stephens coordinates the vocational pursuits.

When the expanded facility is completed in coming months, other inmates - such as those in Category 'B' - will have a greater opportunity to access vocational training.

The new building is sectioned into six bays. Three mechanical areas will soon offer opportunities to learn how to repair engines and perform auto-body work and professional auto painting. Other specialised classrooms will allow for inmates to be trained in the areas of computer-repair, as well as air-conditioning and refrigeration repair.

The use of technology and eco-friendly alternatives is also being encouraged. For instance, the new greenhouse is fitted with solar panels which supply the needed electricity.

"It is anticipated that by the end of this summer the vocational offerings will be in full-swing," said Mr. Stephens. "However, participation is voluntary, and dependant on the security clearance-level of the individual inmate."

The Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs and prison officials are partnering with a cross-section of local agencies to maximise these rehabilitation options. To aid the process, a new voluntary Inmate Employment Committee is being established.

Officials manage both the Northward and Fairbanks prison compounds. The administrative focus is also on using, and recruiting, prison officers who have practical and teachable skills. A new Deputy Director of Prisons with responsibility for rehabilitation, is also being recruited. Deputy Director Daniel Greaves will remain in charge of prison operations.

The reorganized structure with two deputies will allow the director to have a more functional management team, which will assist the prison in meeting its mandate for rehabilitation.

"Our goal is to have all activities lead to recognised certification or educational diplomas. The subjects are as diverse as electrical and plumbing work, health and safety, small engine repairs," said Prison Director Dwight Scott. "The aim is to provide prisoners with the requisite skills that match the skill sets required by the labour market, while reinforcing and encouraging good work ethics."

He shared that the Department of Education, Training and Employment and the new National Workforce Development Unit are also helping prepare a "work-readiness" certification programme for discharged prisoners.

The director hopes that, once released, the men will use their new knowledge to start cottage industries or small businesses, or engage in meaningful work with local companies.

However, these efforts address one area identified as hindering the rehabilitation process; that is, the ability of released prisoners to engage in stable employment. The other issue, suitable housing upon release, will be a later focus of attention.

These are some of the measures recommended in the report produced by the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC).

The IPAC report also encouraged authorities to engage in a higher level of inter-agency collaboration within government in order to maximize efficiency and to explore further opportunities for partnership with voluntary agencies and private sector companies.

Overall, the prison service continues to remain in the spotlight. This is evidenced by a week-long visit by an advance team of researchers from the HM Inspectorate of Prisons later this month. They will survey inmates and prepare for the inspectors who will arrive in July to conduct a full prison inspection.

While there are costs associated with these developments, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, Cert. Hon. JP, said, "These developments are moving ahead at full-steam, with the objective of bringing the issue of incarceration and rehabilitation to the standards which have been identified - and in keeping with the expectations of the wider community."

He added that the ultimate goal is to reduce recidivism, restore families and communities, and break negative cycles that threaten to undermine the stability of local communities.

For instance, reallocated funds from vacant posts under his Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs are being used to fund the new positions.

In the meanwhile, men whose lifestyles have resulted in them doing hard time can now opt to take advantage of the renewed attention and opportunities to turn their lives around.

(GIS)

For further information contact: Lennon Christian




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