Lahore - Prison industries are central when it comes to keeping the bad guys on their toes and eventually giving them the wherewithal to make an honest living once they leave the jail. While Punjab Prisons Department has introduced motorcycle overhauling to enable inmates to become mechanics so that they are able to fend for themselves once they have served their time, in Sialkot and Shahiwal, they are being leased to football manufacturers to stitch footballs.

IG Prisons Punjab Farooq Nazir views this as playing a constructive role in rehabilitating prisoners.

"This is an excellent opportunity for learning a new skill, which can come handy in returning inmates to society," he says. He adds that these footballs are not of a very good quality and are sold in the local market. Since these footballs do not meet international standards, they are not exported, he explains. A single prisoner earns Rs 60 per day for stitching two footballs. Inmates remain inside jail premises where raw material is brought to them. Largely, the work involves stitching.

It is, however, only in Sialkot and Shahiwal where inmates get to earn a daily wage as per the Prisons Laws which entitles a prisoner to a wage only if he/she is kept on lease. Currently the practice of leasing prevails in the above-mentioned cities only.

"The idea behind prison industries is reformation of inmates and also help them find jobs. Motorcycle overhauling is a skill that can be used earn a decent income. With the expertise they are learning they can even set up new workshops.", says Mr Nazir.

Other main industries are carpet weaving, furniture, stitching of warders' uniform and prisoners' clothing. In Women's Jail Multan, industries consists of embroidery, sewing and knitting. The sanctioned rate for carpet weaving is Rs 513 per Sft, while that of a cotton Duree is Rs 104 per Sft. There are a total of 49592 prisoners locked up in 32 different jails across Punjab; every able-bodied inmate is engaged in some kind of skilled labour given the Laws which stipulates that each one of them has to work in certain capacity. So far as agriculture is concerned, prisoners cultivate wheat crop. The labour involves tilling the land, sowing the seeds and taking care of the crops until harvest.   

Prison industries reflect a bright side of the life behind bars, says Mr Nazir adding at the same time that the first and foremost job of any jail is to keep criminals in custody as per the orders of the court. IG Prisons rubbished reports in press that had been purporting to project these industries as something of a profit-making enterprise.

"Such reports are unfounded. There is no income let alone profit. Money that comes from football manufacturing is given to the inmates, while rest of the labour includes stitching of warders' uniform, clothing etc which does not fetch any income. Punjab Prisons is not an earning department," he says.

He ruled out the question of exploiting prisoners in the garb of football manufacturing.

According to Punjab Prisons Laws, all the prisoners including those who have been consigned to rigorous punishment are put to work in different prison industries and those in the football manufacturing are no exception. This includes convicted prisoners, those who are on death row or sentenced to life.

"The department's running cost is Rs 5 billion. Prisoners labour generates no income and contributes nothing. There is kitchen work and other menial work but if labour is hired from outside to do that work, yes, it would cost money. So the prisoners doing all this work saves some money but that cannot be seen as generating income or profit."

He explains. He believes that prison industries are a crucial tool in enabling inmates to reintegrate into society. He says that he had personally followed inmates' progress over a course of period and noticed how they felt after they were released.

"They thank God. Some of them never tell their families they have been to a jail. Many of them get jobs easily," he says. "About 7000 prisoners who have been released since 2001, I have yet to come across any of them. This indicates they do not go back to crime," he explains. For the past two years, the prisons department has also introduced religious and formal education as a means to instill behaviour therapy, he says.