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The government of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu is expanding a program that allows prison industries to compete in the open marketplace under the ironic brand name “Freedom.” Prison industry programs already exist at nine central prisons, three women’s prisons and nine district jails scattered across Tamil Nadu, located in the southern tip of the Asian nation. The facilities hold a combined total of about 11,000 prisoners.
Prison authorities are adding open-air bazaars to market fresh produce grown by prisoners to shoppers from neighboring communities. The bazaars are in addition to current prison industries that include the production of soap, leather, textiles, books and baked goods. Traditionally, those products have been sold only to other government agencies and are considered substandard.
“So far, we were manufacturing goods for the police and other departments. Such government clients are not very demanding in terms of pricing, delivery schedule and quality, although we ourselves try to maintain this,” said S.K. Dogra, Additional Director-General of Police in Tamil Nadu. “But once you operate in the open market, you have to adopt the best commercial practices. So, naturally the entire process of manufacturing will have to move up the scale in terms of efficiency and quality.”
Providing prisoners with skills they can use to obtain jobs after their release is a major objective of the program. Prison officials said they have identified individuals who are qualified to provide training to prisoners in the use of modern manufacturing technology. Additionally, a portion of the revenue generated by the sale of prison-made goods on the open market is earmarked for prisoners’ accounts.