GARD participates in inmate reentry programme

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The Gilbert Agricultural & Rural Development Center (GARD Center), in partnership with the Ministry of Legal Affairs and the Community Development Division in Ministry of Social Transformation, is engaging in a new programme geared at equipping young prison inmates with the skills and knowledge necessary to reenter and contribute to the society.
The reentry programme, spearheaded by the GARD Center, targets youth aged 18 to 35 who are to be released from the penal system within a year.
Executive Director for the GARD Center, Roberta Williams said that the programme consists of light skills training, vocational skills training, counselling, Computer literacy and remedial Mathematics and English. She also disclosed that it is during the interview section, that the literacy of inmates can be assessed.
“When these young people are interviewed, that is when we are able to determine their literacy level,” Williams said. “We do not know the statistics beforehand, so we really have to do the counselling and review first, in order to determine that particular group.”
According to the director, skills training would be tailored to suit each person in the programme, while taking their interests into consideration.
According to a press release by the Ministry of Legal Affairs, the training has included the areas of agriculture, plumbing, carpentry, computer and general life skills.
Recently created, the programme has been supported by the government of Antigua and Barbuda as well as the European Union (EU) which, according to the director, has provided the funding to help expand the programme.
When asked about the average time span of the programme, the director said the skills training segment lasts between 12 to 14 weeks, but there are other segments involved, such as counselling, which begin very early in the year. Additionally, she noted that different challenges faced by the young men and women, such as drug abuse and mental challenges, would impact the length of time that the programme may last.
However, the director stressed that it is important that communities (such as Gray Hill and Cashew Hill which have been selected to help the inmates’ transition back into society) and businesses sympathise and support the youth as they leave Her Majesty’s Prison and begin to seek employment.
“It is the whole mindset that needs to be changed with employers and even in the community,” Williams said. “Any employer who is willing to take on an inmate who has come out needs to get in contact with us. These young persons are so hungry for information and skills that I know that they are going to do very well. They just want that second chance,” Williams said.
According to an official from the Community Development Division, several challenges with regard to the program were brought to the attention of the Attorney General during a meeting on June 5, and that a follow-up to develop a plan as to implementation of the programme should be held.
However, Williams expressed the view that everyone in the community ought to get more involved in the whole aspect of rehabilitating the youth.
“We cannot wait on government to do everything. We, ourselves, have to get control of our communities and begin to create activities and positive things for our young people to get involved in and educate them. We also need to work with families who need help,” she said.

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