As part of a reform plan for inmates at the penal and correctional institutions of the Ministry of Interior in Qatar, QF’s Education City Gift Shop is displaying creative works made behind bars – and this is how it happens.
How does life look in prison? The common perception might be that it is harsh and dark, governed by strict rules, and designed to isolate those who have committed crimes from society.
However, the period that a prisoner spends incarcerated may be an opportunity to unlock the creativity within them, help them to rediscover themselves – especially when an environment that supports this is provided, together with an outlet for their work.
And the benefits of providing such an opportunity can be seen when looking at products offered for sale in the Education City Gift Shop at Qatar Foundation that have been made by inmates at penal and correctional institutions, reflecting the artistic talent and creativity that exists beyond the prison walls.
Qatar’s commitment to upholding human rights means its Ministry of Interior - represented by the Penal and Correctional Institutions Department - adopts a modern penal philosophy based on discipline and reform, and aims to ensure that prison inmates are psychologically and socially supported and equipped with skills that help to connect them with society. This is designed to facilitate their reintegration into normal life, and deter them from reoffending, after their sentence ends.
Speaking about the field of aftercare for prison inmates and released detainees around the world, Captain Bakhit Abdullah Al-Baridi, Head of the Care and Reform Section at the Penal and Correctional Institutions Department, said: “The most important issue is the lack of serious supportive authorities; despite the fact that some authorities may sign agreements or contract initiatives to relieve the pressure of life in prison, the final outcome for them is often nothing.
“We have been keen to implement mechanisms that ensure the provision of real support to all inmates, as we have signed agreements with various local bodies, including Qatar Development Bank, which offers training courses for inmates in managing small and medium-sized businesses. Based on the evaluation of the inmate’s performance during the courses, they can be granted a store for free in the Al Furjan Markets project for a full year, until they can manage the project independently.
“We have signed similar agreements with other authorities and bodies such as Qatar Red Crescent, which makes unremitting efforts to provide inmates with the support and training they need. We are currently working on strengthening our cooperation with other authorities in Qatar.”
Diversity and desire to learn
The prison environment is characterized by being a place where people with many different characteristics and experiences meet. This diverse setting includes people from professions ranging from doctors and engineers to plumbers and electricians, as well as a range of other roles and skills.
We look at humanity as a principle, without any discrimination or inequality between prison inmates, and we take into consideration their skills, preferences and talents
According to Captain Al-Baridi, the Penal and Correctional Institutions Department is keen to make the most of these capabilities within the framework of a comprehensive reform plan. It includes providing inmates with the opportunity to participate in courses and workshops provided by specialized trainers, such as in arts, handicrafts, and other craftworks, in addition to specific skills in the women’s section like sewing and knitting.
“We look at humanity as a principle, without any discrimination or inequality between prison inmates, and we take into consideration their skills, preferences and talents,” he explained. “Participation in these courses is optional and stems from the inmates’ own desire to learn and achieve.
“We work to engage inmates in making decisions related to the details of the craftworks they create, and we apply their suggestions, as they have a distinctive and unique vision and a special personal perspective of course. We also offer them specialized, high-caliber workshops and provide them with all the raw materials they need.”
To safeguard the health of prison inmates amid the COVID-19 pandemic, activities in workshops have been divided into small groups, with social distancing and wearing face masks being necessary in addition to the regular sterilization of workspaces and tools.
The team at the Penal and Correctional Institutions Department realizes that inmates live in difficult circumstances and are exposed to great pressures, which requires dealing with them in a special manner and taking into account what they are going through. At the same time, the team aims to assess what motivates them to participate in the workshops.
“We do not live in an ideal world, and we are keen to assess the behavior of the inmates and their personalities from the time they arrive here,” said Captain Al-Baridi. ‘”Priority for enrolling in the courses is given to inmates who show normal behaviors, to ensure that their work in the workshops is not exploited for purposes other than production and reform.”
We do not want to waste the experience of an inmate who has particular competencies, but rather invest in their capabilities and encourage them to train other inmates
Moral and material support
What characterizes the handcrafted products, and other products, manufactured by inmates in the penal and correctional institutions – including those now displayed in the Education City Gift Shop - is their quality. All the work produced conforms to certain specifications and boasts attractive designs.
It means that the public has constantly shown interest in these products through the local exhibitions where they go on show, with a solid customer base being established and continuous orders and purchases coming from different destinations. Meanwhile, the Penal and Correctional Institutions Department has established an online store to market inmates’ products via the Ministry of Interior website www.moi.gov.qa.
Speaking about the extent to which prison inmates benefit from their participation in manufacturing these products, from both a financial and professional perspective, Captain Al-Baridi explained: “These products are witnessing a noticeable demand from the community and we are generating high revenues.
Doha is a pioneer city in offering goodness to all. Inmates have benefited a lot from the income they receive from their work here to meet their needs
“50 per cent of the proceeds of sales are deposited into the inmate’s account by linking each handcrafted item and craft work to a specific serial number, while 50 per cent is deposited in the Ministry’s revenues account in order to purchase the raw materials.
“Doha is a pioneer city in offering goodness to all. Inmates have benefited a lot from the income they receive from their work here to meet their needs, and some of them are able to pay for their family’s needs while they are here. In addition, we do not want to waste the experience of an inmate who has particular competencies, but rather invest in their capabilities and encourage them to train other inmates
“We also invite some previous inmates to present lectures to current inmates so that they can share their past experiences, and explain how they were able to benefit from the modern penal policy and how their lives have changed.”
Captain Al-Baridi emphasized that the Penal and Correctional Institutions Department has started to align the works by inmates with Qatar’s national goals and the demands of the market, saying: “We are currently working on focusing our attention on the fields of technology, Artificial Intelligence, and digital manufacturing, to keep pace with the development we are witnessing and to meet market needs. And, in line with Qatar’s vision of achieving environmental sustainability, we are currently working on a plan to use recycled wood in the manufacture of products.”