Prisoners learn how to build future with study

A group of inmates at Sharjah prison have taken a step towards what they hope will be a better life upon their release.

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SHARJAH // A group of inmates at Sharjah prison have taken a step towards what they hope will be a better life upon their release.

Nineteen inmates, who range in age from 20 to 40, have begun annual examinations for varying grade levels as pupils at schools across the emirate do the same.

The testing programme was expected to help convicted criminals improve their vocational skills and allow them to get good jobs upon their release, said Major Gen Mohammed al Hudaidi, the Sharjah police director general.

"Education plays a vital role in the rehabilitative function of our establishment," he said. "It is part of our strategy to have inmates spending their time here being educated. By doing these programmes, the police are merging justice with mercy.

"If we want them to reintegrate well in an increasingly educated society, we should educate them."

Illiteracy and underdeveloped learning skills could lead to limited life choices, particularly with regard to employment, which in turn becomes a predisposing factor in criminal activities, Major Gen al Hudaidi said.

Sharjah recently banned all those with criminal records from holding jobs as school bus drivers, illustrating the stigma attached to spending time behind bars.

The Sharjah Education Zone (SEZ), the emirate's educational authority, directs the inmates' schooling and examinations at all levels.

"We believe that educated inmates would be better reformed and less prone to committing crimes again once their sentences are served," a SEZ spokeswoman said. "We also make evaluations of all our training and do career guidance for prisoners applying for education programmes."

In addition, the education zone has vowed to help prisoners who have finished their sentences to continue with their education upon their release. The courses on offer include instruction in useful occupations including carpentry and computer skills.

The public needed to change its perception about those serving time as inmates needed to be reintegrated into society after being released, a prison spokesman said. Failing to do so could lead to convicted criminals reverting to the old ways the prison had fought to change.

"Convicts are not born criminals but circumstances at times make them," he said. "Giving them knowledge that can give them a job is like giving them life."