About 10 000 inmates have been trained as artisans as part of government’s efforts to develop skills to support the country’s economy.
According to the Department of Correctional Services (DCS), 9 403 inmates received training in welding, electrical, plumbing, building, carpentry, painting, tiling and chef assistance in the 2013/14 financial year.
In addition to the department’s budget, from April 2012 to March 2014 about R50 million was spent from the National Skills Fund to train offenders in welding, plumbing, bricklaying, plastering, electrical, carpentry and agricultural skills programmes.
The then Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele said the department would produce more artisans to deal with the shortage of critical skills in South Africa. “This will also contribute towards government’s Decade of the Artisan programme, with the goal of producing 30 000 artisans annually,” he added.
During 2012/13 a total of 1 515 inmates per day worked at DCS Production Work- shops where qualified artisans transferred skills to offenders in 10 wood and steel workshops, 19 textile workshops, one shoe factory, six bakeries and three sanitary towel manufacturing workshops.
In addition, 3 110 offenders were involved in agricultural activities each day. Offenders developed work skills and experience in agricultural projects such as vegetable production, fruits, broiler, egg, dairy, piggery, small stock (goat and sheep farming), beef and agronomy farming.
Minister Ndebele said developing the skills of those incarcerated will return to society after serving their sentence. Thus, a focus on rehabilitation and re-orientation of offenders is critical. DCS is re-moulding the character and improving the skills of offenders so that they return to society with enhanced prospects of success,” said explained the Minister.
This was particularly important because young people make up a significant portion of those behind bars.
“As at March 2013, nearly a quarter (24.99 per cent) of the sentenced offender population was youth. A number of inmates who, while not under 25, are still in the prime of their life. Children, as young as 17 years of age, have committed serious crimes,” he said.
The average inmate was a young substance abuser who had dropped out of school before high school, was functionally illiterate and more often than not, homeless, the Minister added.
By teaching these inmates skills, the DCS is hoping to change their lives, while at the same time boosting the economy.