By Supun Dias
The Prison Reform and Integrate programme initiated by the Merrill J. Fernando Charitable Foundation’s Small Entrepreneur Programme (SEP) handed over cheques to 25 prisoners to help them to rebuild their lives.
The programme focuses on transforming individuals released on parole from the correctional system to lead productive lives by re-building their reputation within the community and instilling confidence in them to carry on with their lives. Launched in October 2007, the Reform and Integrate programme is the first of its kind in Sri Lanka. This is the 10th such programme carried out by the foundation together with the Prisons Department.
As in many countries, once imprisoned, individuals, even if rehabilitated and motivated to mend their ways, face an uphill task to re-establish themselves within the community as regular citizens, due to a lack of adequate re-integration systems in place.
Many employers shun people who have been convicted and are unwilling to take risks. The consequence therefore is that many of these prisoners are unable to sustain themselves once released which increases their chances of resorting to crime once again.
The Prisons SEP was established with the objective of attempting to break this cycle and give these individuals a second chance at life. Prisoners are carefully selected for the programme and must have a good rehabilitation record during their period of incarceration.
Those selected must also have undergone vocational training within the correctional system or as in SEP those that have prior experience in a vocation are supplied with the tools of their trade so that they can establish a means of earning an honest livelihood.
Since its inception in 2007, over 270 former prisoners have benefitted from the programme which has been hailed as a success in combating recidivism.
“I believe that everyone deserves a second chance to change their lives even I started Dilmah when I was 58, so frankly speaking it is never too late to follow your dreams and start things fresh. So in this case I believe it is not too late, immaterial of their age, gender and the criminal record. We are ready to support this initiative as long as it remains relevant,” Dilmah Founder Merrill J. Fernando said.
“We as the Prison Department are pleased to say that none of the recipients of this programme have returned to any of the prisons so this gives more than enough proof that this programme is implemented successfully together with Merrill J. Fernando Charitable Foundation,” Prisons Commissioner General H.M.Danasinghe said.
“We work closely with the foundation to ensure that the objectives of this programme are realised, followed up and them being successfully rehabilitated to make sure that they are geared up to establish themselves in a suitable livelihood with support from the foundation,” he added.
Ten percent of all proceeds from Dilmah’s Global sales are delved back into the MJF Charitable Foundation and Dilmah Conversation.
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