Puerto Rican government sets up inmates’ co-op in maximum-security prison

'The co-op forms part of the wider project to rebuild the lives of these people and support them to discover and reinforce the talents they possess'

Inmates at a maximum-security prison in Guayama, Puerto Rico, are now members of a worker co-operative.

JEES Coop is the seventh prisoners’s co-op on the island but the first in a high-security prison.

Announcing the launch of the co-op on 17 July, Puerto Rico’s governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares said the business would enable inmates to work. They will offer a range of services, including T-shirt printing, labelling, cabinet making, craft making and sewing.

So far, the co-op has eight member-owners, who recently held their first assembly.

“The co-operative movement fulfils an important function in the society and our correctional community is no exception,” said Mr Nevares. “The launch of this first assembly of the co-op forms part of the wider project to rebuild the lives of these people and support them to discover and reinforce the talents they possess.”

JEES Coop was officially incorporated as a co-operative within the correctional system.

 “This co-operative will provide work opportunities for its members, which could be the government’s main contribution to the lifestyle of inmates, once they are released and need to integrate themselves into the community,” said the secretary of the Correction and Rehabilitation Department, Erik Rolón Suárez.

Mr Suárez added that the co-op was an important tool for rehabilitation.

The other inmates’ co-ops in the Puerto Rican prison system are involved in various activities, including crafts creation, agriculture and producing reusable bags. Membership gave inmates work experience and helped dozens of them reduce their sentences and transition back into communities.

The officials added that the co-ops helped inmates to gain the right skills, show initiative, communicate better and learn about co-operative values.

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