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Prison gates to swing open in business drive

Dragonfly director Emma Munuer and Thika Women Prison industry section head Lilian Wangithi admire products made by inmates. They announced the launch of a project that will provide materials and skills to prisoners and market their products. PHOTO | WAIKWA MAINA | NMG
Dragonfly director Emma Munuer and Thika Women Prison industry section head Lilian Wangithi admire products made by inmates. They announced the launch of a project that will provide materials and skills to prisoners and market their products. PHOTO | WAIKWA MAINA | NMG 

High-quality products made by prisoners will soon be accessible to Kenyans, tourists and official guests following a recent agreement.

Through a partnership between prisons authorities and two non-governmental organisations (local and France-based), Kenyans will be able to access the products at specific places.

Proceeds will be shared between the government and the concerned inmates at a yet to be determined ratio, meaning ex-convicts could walk out of correctional facilities with some money to restart their lives.

The initiative is a major boost to Kenyan prisons marketing department — established to formulate strategies and systems for selling prison-made products, mostly furniture and women accessories. 

The biggest beneficiaries will be women inmates and the Kenyan Government, who will share the earnings through a revitalised hobbies programme. 

Speaking at Thika Women Prison during the launch of the project, Dragonfly director Emma Munuera said: “The government provides shelter and other basic needs to inmates. It’s therefore entitled to a percentage of the sales. It is, however, immoral, punitive and unjust for the government to bank every coin, forgetting the inmates who provide the labour and who eventually leave correctional facilities empty-handed.”

In the programme, Dragonfly, a France-based NGO, and Rodi-Kenya will provide materials and skills to women inmates and market their products.

“Our interest areas are sewing, non-chemical hair dressing, bio-aesthetic, solidarity, curative cuisine, creative recycling, music lessons, sports and personal development. We have proof that prison-made products are durable and of high quality. Kenyans need not import inferior goods,” said Ms Munuera.

Through the partnership, Ms Emma said, exhibition centres and retail outlets would be established at airports and tourists destination areas starting next month.

One of the exhibition facilities will be located at Rodi Kenya training centre in Ruiru Town. “An Act of Parliament is required to establish the percentage an inmate should get for their labour. But that may take decades to implement. That’s why we have opted to rejuvenate the hobbies programme,” says Rodi-Kenya executive director Eliud Kihoro.

Ms Lilian Wangithi, in charge of Thika Women Prison industry section, says importation of finished products is a major setback to prison-made stuff, which are durable and of superior quality.

She cited the example of colourful, long-lasting cosmetics holders sold at Sh1,500 each within the prison, whose cost of production is Sh850 but it takes three days for an inmate to make one.

“We are required to add 30 per cent above the production cost for labour. That percentage gives us Sh225, putting the total production cost at Sh1,105. Selling the cosmetics holder at Sh1,500 means that the product will have earned Sh395 profit in three days. How much does the government require for three days upkeep of such an inmate? The answer you get will help solve the dilemma,” says Ms Wangithi.

Under the hobbies programme, part of the profit is banked in a special account to be shared by individual inmates based on their efforts upon completion of their terms.

Thika Women Prison deputy commander Sophia Njogu says that under the programme, prisoners are provided with raw materials by prison warders or the public to make products and are paid for the labour.

“The deal will benefit us even more, because of the additional skills and raw materials donated by our partners. There is a high demand for biological cosmetics and other non-chemical products. We, therefore, welcome our two partners,” says Ms Njogu. 

Ms Munuera says most of the raw materials will be sourced within the prisons, adding that it’s just a matter of helping female inmates identify and make use of resources at their disposal.

“It’s important for Kenyans to change their mindsets. And even as we work towards that, we have many visitors to Kenya who need our beautiful products but have no access to them,” says Ms Munuera.

She says a similar imported product, but of lesser quality and durability, retails at double that price in local supermarkets.

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