Prison starts leather workshop

| 21/07/2017 | 12 Comments
Cayman News Service

HMP Northward inmates learns leather working skills

(CNS): Several inmates at HMP Northward are in the process of learning a new and specialist skill that the director hopes will have the dual effect of rehabilitation for the men and generate some income that the prison will be able to ringfence for the jail’s wider rehab programmes. Experts from Guyana are spending a week at the men’s jail teaching them tanning and leather working skills to supply a new leather craft shop opening in Cayman in September.

Colin Bollers, a tanner and leather artisan who runs Jochelle’s Magnetic Craft in Guyana, is spending this week with a group of inmates who signed up to learn the skills of leather craft, the first step to what Prison Director Neil Lavis hopes will become a full-scale tannery and leather workshop at HMP Northward.

“It’s giving prisoners an option, something to break the cycle,” he said, noting that this makes Cayman “a safer place”.

The goal is to make bags, wallets, purses, belts, shoes and other accessories from animal skins, which the prison will get from the Department of Agriculture’s abattoir and from the skins of green iguanas. Those will then be sold through a new local business, which is expected to open in a few months.

Lavis is hoping it will also be the start of a social enterprise fund at the prison, where cash generated by inmates who are learning the skills and producing the goods can generate funds that can be reinvested in prison rehabilitation. With a packed jail (there are currently 211 inmates at Northward alone) and an extremely tight prison budget, Lavis has to be as innovative as possible when it comes to rehabilitation programmes because there is not enough money to go around.

Cayman News ServiceBut following a change last year to the law dealing with how prisoners are released, all inmates must demonstrate that they have been through a process of rehabilitation, thus reducing their risk of reoffending, before they can get out, which creates additional pressure on prison management.

Lavis explained that if the prison, with support from the ministry, can develop a tannery and a workshop to make the leather goods, the money the inmates generate through their craft can be ringfenced for the prison instead of going into general revenue.

Lavis said this particular project appealed to him because of its potential to generate genuine interest in the goods the prisoners make, as they will be truly Cayman products, as well as giving inmates unique skills.

Several inmates were quick to sign up for the voluntary rehab project, which adds to a growing list of programmes at the prison designed to change the lives of inmates. Lavis is trying, under difficult circumstances, to stop the warehousing of offenders until they have served their sentences and to turn the time they serve for whatever offence into a productive learning period.

The prison now has a construction project, which teaches inmates everything from bricklaying to installing air-conditioning, a wood shop, where inmates are learning carpentry skills, ongoing education classes such as literacy and IT skills, as well as a range of rehabilitation projects focusing on personal development.

Intervention projects, such as anger management classes, are also proving powerful drivers of change for some inmates. In addition, the restorative justice course, called the Sycamore Project, where inmates meet with victims of similar crimes to those they committed, was recently launched at Northward. Where similar courses in other jurisdictions have been tried and tested, they have been found to have a dramatic impact on offenders.

Lavis maintains that the real key to reducing recidivism is for the community to support the prison in its work to give offenders a fresh start. He wants to see a shift in society where the community embraces and supports rehabilitation of offenders instead of forgetting about those that are locked up.

This means fostering a much closer relationship with the business community, educators and the prison to provide more meaningful programmes that can generate income, teach offenders new skills and support the inmates as they transition back into the community and begin new crime-free lives.

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Category: Crime, Crime Prevention, Prison

Comments (12)

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  1. Anonimous says:

    How about some of these aame programs out of the prison to help kids not to go to prison

  2. Anonymous says:

    Great, but how about cleaning litter up too? Put low risk on the beach to clean. License plates, glasses out of wine bottles, so many options for work. Just need implementation which takes years here.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Criminals looking for excuses to get out early before the commit more crime. These schemes have a logic to them but the logic is flawed as criminality and recidivism is more ingrained than people believe and it is so close to impossible to alter that state that programmes trying to do so are a waste of money.

  4. We need trade schools not jail says:

    It looks like you have to go to jail to learn a trade in cayman because they have more programs than what is out here.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Great idea. Why not also teach them how to make license plates like what is done elsewhere? Why did this have to be done in Panama?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Someone must have listened to what I said nearly a year ago, and 11:33 you’re nearly right… but the leather from Iguanas can be used for so much more. Belts, Wallets, Purses, Key Rings, Bags, Luggage Tags… the list goes on. Just hope they bring in someone to teach them how to make full use of the skins and the whole tanning and dying process. Well done though, a step in the right direction for Cayman, at last.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I would love a small restaurant equipment repair program. A high in demand skill and I have a shed full of kitchen equipment I hate to throw out.

  8. Elvis says:

    More of these programs but please, more staff? Conditional release law targets rehabilitation which is awesome but they need staff to deliver programs hello?

  9. Anonymous says:

    Good job Mr. Lavis

  10. Anonymous says:

    Ooooh, I would love a pair of iguana leather shoes.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Fantastic idea! Sell their handmade goods at the craft markets and souvenir shops for the cruise ship passengers to buy. In addition to raising a prisoner’s self worth, it will be a more authentic “made in Cayman” souvenir, much better than the cheap and tacky “made in China” t-shirts currently on offer.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Thank you prison service. There is a new culture developing in our civil service.


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