Dubai: You will soon be able to buy products made by inmates at Al Aweer Central Jail at the click of a mouse and have them couriered to your home.
Dubai Police’s Punitive and Correctional Establishments is developing an online shopping portal to sell these products.
Until the portal goes live, consumers can buy prison-made items at a permanent exhibition that opened in March at the jail. The products will be delivered by police free of charge to buyers in Dubai or for a nominal charge in other emirates.
Officials have not set a target date for the portal to go live, but are hopeful it should be up and running soon.
Major Mohammad Thani Al Falasi, director of the Supplies and Services Department at the General Department of Punitive and Correctional Establishments, said most products are heritage items ranging from traditional wooden and brass boxes (mandoos) and model dhows to garden benches, dried palm-leaf enclosures (areesh) and money boxes. Items such as dolls, decorative metal cages, tables, kandouras, abayas, tissue boxes, bags, pillows are also made by inmates.
“We encourage inmates to come up with ideas to improve existing products or create new ones . One inmates designed and produced a portable wash basin,” Maj Al Falasi said.
There are two separate workshops, one for male inmates — in which 184 men work — and one for female inmates, in which 40 women work.
The women inmates make dolls, stuffed animals, slippers, leather items, knitted items and perfumes.
The men’s workshop is located inside a large warehouse divided into small work areas for painting, carpentry, metalwork, sewing, drawing as well as a mechanical tasks.
“At the men’s workshop, we make 38-40 different products. People can ask for customised items, but those take longer to make, between two days to a week,” Maj Al Falasi explained.
The men’s workshop sold 1,279 items in the first half of 2015, and 2,706 items in 2014.
An inmate works on a traditional garment. There are two workshops in the prison, one for male inmates — in which 184 men work — and one for female inmates, in which 40 women work.
Inmates who work at the workshop can get a reduced sentence if they maintain a record of good behaviour.
Dubai Police also promote the products through social media and their website, in addition to exhibitions in government departments, malls and schools. Annual exhibitions are held at the Global Village and Heritage Village.
In 2014, the police organised 37 exhibitions. This year, there have been 13 till August.
“We have had many buyers from Gulf Cooperation Council countries too, but they bear the shipping cost,” said Lieutenant Ali Abdullah Abdul Rahim Ahmad, head of Marketing and Finance at the Supplies and Services Department.
Take your pick: Stuffed toys made female by Dubai jail inmates for sale (Photo: Noorhan Barakat)
Lt Ahmad oversees the entire operation at the men’s workshop.
The inmates work between 8am to 12.30pm daily, except on weekends. They earn monthly wages and at the end of the year take 5 per cent of the total profit, Lt Ahmad said.
Inmates are encouraged to volunteer for the programme as long as they have no health issues.
“Not all the inmates are experienced. Those who do, teach others. We also conduct training courses from time to time,” Lt Ahmad said.
Major Nawal Abdullah Al Dosari, acting director of Dubai Police’s Women’s Prison, said crochet items are the most popular products sold by the women’s section.
A small traditional box for Dh100 (about $27) made by Dubai jail inmates. There's an ornately designed brass table for Dh800 ($216). Miniature wooden ships, from Dh100; wooden chair for Dh700; and a big traditional box made of brass for Dh2,500 ($675).
“One inmate designed a doll and has been making them for eight years. She taught another inmate to make them too and they are quite popular,” Maj Nawal said.
Inmates are provided with all the material they need. “We recently got them a new machine to print mugs and mobile covers. We in the process of getting a machine to print on T-shirts,” Maj Nawal said.
The female prison sells an average of 100 items a year.
The prison has its share of success stories. “Of two male inmates who learnt carpentry at the prison’s workshop, one opened a small workshop in his house of them with a help of a charity organisation and the other opened a carpentry business in his hometown of Masafi,” Lt Ahmad said.
How to buy
You can get a glimpse of the inmates’ work by logging on to Dubai police website here. Click the desired language (Arabic and English) and start e-shopping.
You may also visit the permanent exhibition in Al Aweer Central Jail between 7.30am and 2.30pm.
Products can be purchased by phone or by visiting any of the police exhibitions.
Items for sale can also be viewed on the Dubai Police app and paid for on delivery.