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Côte d’Ivoire: Prison farming cultivates dignity (IPS)

François Kouamé wears his prison number like a badge of honour. Mr. Kouamé makes his way to a field where cassava and maize plants are starting to grow, passing two new tractors along the way. He proudly exclaims, “Look at those sprouts. It is a lot of work!”

Ivorian authorities have been searching for alternatives to overcrowded prisons and malnourished prisoners. And they may have found the answer — prison farming.

The Saliakro Prison Farm is the first of its kind in Côte d’Ivoire. Its 21 buildings provide accommodation for 150 prisoners sentenced to less than three years for non-violent crimes. Mr. Kouamé is serving a one-year sentence for cutting down trees on a cocoa plantation. In a former summer camp, he and other prisoners are learning new farming skills.

For Mr. Kouamé, the farm is a relief after six months of incarceration at Soubré State Prison. He says, “We were sleeping four persons in a space that could contain only one person. And we were granted only a bowl of rice per day.”

Now he eats three meals a day and sleeps in a clean room with 16 other prisoners. Each man has his own bunk bed, a closet, and plenty of space to move about.

Mamadou Doumbia is serving a two-year sentence for stealing computers. He spent 11 months in Agboville Prison, near the country’s economic capital, Abidjan, before being sent to Saliakro Prison Farm.

Agboville was an unpleasant place, according to Mr. Doumbia. He witnessed rapes, and says prisoners were malnourished and had problems with pests. At Saliakro, he says, “I feel … human again.”

Ivorian authorities at the Ministry of Justice and supporters at French NGO Prisoners without Borders plan to use the Saliakro project to improve inmate conditions, reduce costs and help prisoners reintegrate into the community after serving their time.

Pinguissie Ouattara is the superintendent of Saliakro Prison and also manages the Dimbokro Prison a few kilometres away. He believes the new prison farm will have a positive effect on prison rehabilitation.

Mr. Ouattara says: “It is about more than feeding themselves … It is about learning new skills and being able to reintegrate and participate fully in society. This is about bringing an alternative to crime, and decreasing the crime rate.”

Though Mr. Kouamé was a farmer before he was sentenced to prison, the experience at Saliakro has been valuable. He has learned a lot from the agronomists since he arrived in December 2013. He says, “I have learnt here many things that will make my farm more profitable, notably by diversifying production.”

To read the article on which this story is based, How farming is making Côte d’Ivoire’s prisoners ‘feel like being human again,’ go to: http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/how-farming-in-making-cote-divoires-prisoners-feel-like-being-human-again/

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