In The News

News | events | Al Qasimi Foundation | Ras Al Khaimah skyline | media

News Search

Ras Al Khaimah | Prison Project | Education | UAE

RAK Jail's Educated Inmates

Melanie Swan, The National
June 03, 2012

When Ibrahim was sent to prison at just 16, he was stripped of more than his freedom. The Emirati, now 27 and still in RAK's central jail, lost out on the chance to finish his education.

"You only realise what you've lost when you don't have it," he said. "I want to better myself. I need to continue my studies and learn skills I can use when I get outside, like English and computing."

He is one of the inmates who have helped set up a new library, which he now sees as a first step to helping him and others around him to self educate.

"I am helping other prisoners in here as this benefits us all," he said.

The project is being run by the Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in RAK, which has been setting up the library, stocked with nearly 2,000 books in nine languages. It is now planning classes for inmates in subjects such as English, computing and maths, beginning in September.

The first course will be English, a subject the prisoners know will help them in the outside world, said Samar Farah, lead researcher on the project.

While interviewing prisoners for a research project on male Emirati high school dropouts, she repeatedly heard complaints of a lack of access to education and professional development courses inside prison.

"It really touched us," she said. "You looked at them not just as prisoners but as people who want to better themselves, people reflecting on why they are in prison and want to integrate into the community again.

"Education is a right for everyone, whether in prison or anywhere else."

Colonel Sultan Al Jarwan, head of the prison, expects the project to be a great success.

"The library gives them a chance to educate themselves," he said. "It stops them getting into trouble."

Just one year ago, the prison launched a workshop for prisoners to learn carpentry skills, making items such as tables. Each month the fruits of their labour are sold, and the prisoners get a small salary as well as a new skill.

"It helps them psychologically," he said. "We've noticed many improvements since the prisoners started. They feel better because they are working, learning a new skill and they feel they are serving productive time."

The library, which has already had 1,870 books donated, will allow the prisoners to engage with the outside world.

"The long-term goal is to allow them to continue their higher education", he said. The prison is in talks with institutions such as the Higher Colleges of Technology, looking at ways of allowing the inmates to do this without leaving jail.

Abdul, 35, from Egypt, has been inside for two years and nine months. He has a bachelor's degree in computing. Bilingual in Arabic and English, he has been a vital part of setting up the library, establishing the computer system to log the books.

He was one of the first prisoners to take part in the workshop project. The hope of learning languages in prison, he says, will be a ray of hope for many of his fellow inmates, most of whom are from countries such as Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan.

"Knowing other languages will make their life after prison better. Some business management would also help them to get jobs outside."

Trevor Corner, a retired operations manager from the UK, has volunteered for the library since January.

"Many of the guys here are incredibly smart and giving them access to books is a good way for them to develop and broaden their horizons. They have a lot of time on their hands."

Mohammed, 26, speaks half a dozen languages. The Sri Lankan, due for release soon after nine months inside, says the education is just one of many benefits the library will bring the prisoners.

"If people read, they relax," he said. "For their mental well-being it's very healthy for them."

Mohammed, who has a degree in human resources management, said English was vital.

"They don't know basic words like light, hospital, so both inside and outside, it is very hard for them to communicate with people here. It would change their lives if they get English lessons."