Thursday, November 20, 2014

Entrepreneurship Training at Najayo Jail

Najayo Jail in San Cristobal holds about 2000 inmates and is in the state of transition from a traditional overcrowded prison to the new model of prison (Restorative system). However, at the end of October, there was a jail break which resulted in 4 deaths and many seriously injured.

There is also much overcrowding in the old part of prison, with many prisoners sleeping on the floors and in small "cubes" made they built as shelters which they buy. The stories of overcrowded prisons is true, and its shocking to see so many people inside the prison having their  own economy, with Colmado and barber shops all around.

Despite it all, some inmates are still trying to study, and many interested in improving themselves inside the prison without their external distractions.

Civil Innovation Lab gave a free entrepreneurship talk to the prisoners and close to 100 showed up. Most of them came prepared with paper and writing materials and asked lots of questions. There is a strong interest in entrepreneurship and when questioned whether fear will stop them from taking action, and will they be able to do it and succeed, the room roared with the cheer "YES WE CAN!"

It was quite inspiring for these inmates to have experience so much to be still interested and willing to learn a new skill.


Of course these ideas of training inmates in entrepreneurship and then starting a microfinance or seed funding platform is not without resistance. When pitch to people outside, they tend to as the simple question. "Why are you not helping other Dominicans?" The fact is, we are. Civil Innovation is participating in the Global Entrepreneurship week with many events in the Dominican Republic which includes this in the prison.

There is actually a little more urgency with working with the prison. Firstly, when the person is in prison, they are using resources of the country. There are cost involved in running the prison, organizing events, food, water, medicine.

There are many programs giving these inmates jobs when they are released, but many of them end up in prison again. There is also a 15% unemployment rate in Dominican Republic and the odds are against these ex-inmates like anywhere in the world.

The idea of starting a social business run by ex-inmates hiring other ex-inmates is trying to reduce the rate of them returning to prison. As an ex-inmate, they can understand and communicate with each other better. There can be less discrimination and as long as they perceive to be paid fairly, We think that there is a higher chance for the ex-inmate to stay in the job.

This is our social experiment, and if there are any information or similar projects, feel free to contact me, and I am glad to put up more information once I get some results.

-- Robin Low


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