Allowing ex-convicts to reintegrate into society as productive citizens can significantly contribute to curbing violence by preventing the reoccurrence of crime. Based on this premise, on September 24, 2016, IDLO and the Pastoral Penitenciaria – the branch of the Catholic Church providing assistance to people in prison – organized a forum on socio-economic reintegration in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
The forum, held at the local Chamber of Commerce and Industry, saw the participation of the Chamber’s Deputy Chair, Bruce Burdett, the Bishop of San Pedro Sula, Mons. Ángel Garachana Pérez, representatives from IDLO, Pastoral Penitenciaria and the judiciary, as well as testimonies from inmates in the local prison.
It aimed to raise awareness among entrepreneurs about the importance of supporting the reintegration of former convicts, who are usually barred from entering the job market because of their criminal records. As acknowledged by Mr. Burdett, corporate social responsibility projects directed at vulnerable groups have so far failed to include people who had been in conflict with the law.
The distorted image projected by the predominantly sensationalist media shares part of the responsibility for this. Yet, as shown by a poll designed and carried out by IDLO among visitors at San Pedro Sula’s annual business fair, public opinion is not uniformly negative. Sixty-seven percent of those interviewed – including many traders and business people – believed that rehabilitation could be possible behind bars, and a staggering 84% thought reintegration was a possibility. Many said that they would hire a former convict, provided that the appropriate monitoring mechanisms were in place.
Claudia Zepeda, an inmate who coordinates the bakery inside the local penitentiary, recalled in her speech that rehabilitation is a right recognized by Honduran law. She also stressed how educational and training opportunities can change the life of people who, in her words, are “crying out for change”.
The call for the government to ensure relevant programs are started in all of the country’s correctional facilities was echoed by Mons. Garachana, who said that prisons should be “tools for transformation”.
At the end of the forum, IDLO also presented a proposal, put together by inmates at San Pedro Sula prison, on how to improve rehabilitation and reintegration. Main points include ensuring the formal certification of qualifications obtained while in detention; services to facilitate the hiring of former convicts; monitoring and follow-up mechanisms to appease the concerns of employers; and the strengthening of entrepreneurship among inmates.
As part of its “Reducing Violence and Homicides in Honduras Through Access to Justice”, IDLO is supporting Pastoral Penitenciaria in San Pedro Sula and is working with the government – through the National Penitentiary Institute – to develop rehabilitation, reintegration and restorative justice mechanisms for people in conflict with the law.