Sharjah: For individuals at the Sharjah Punitive and Rehabilitation Establishments who are seeking a return to the mainstream, Ramadan is a deeply reflective and uplifting month.
Inside its precincts, prayer is never more important than during Ramadan for the inmates. In fact, religion plays an important role throughout their period of incarceration. But it is in Ramadan, in particular, that their faith reminds them of what they are missing and how they can aspire to an ethical life.
Brigadier Ahmad Shuhail, director-general of Sharjah Punitive and Rehabilitation Establishments, told Gulf News this year the facility set up a Ramadan tent for inmates. Every day a new group of 70 inmates attend the tent from 9pm to 1am. The initiative is first of its kind at the establishment.
The female and male inmates play board games, watch TV, listen to religious lectures or learn the recitation of the Quran.
The inmates also get together for group iftars, attend Taraweeh prayers and take part in contests, cultural events and entertainment such as table tennis and electronic games.
The department is keen on investing in the rehabilitation of inmates and supporting them psychologically, socially and morally so that they can accept their reality and have the will and tools to restart their lives positively once they are released.
As many as 10 prisoners in Sharjah from various nationalities received a surprise reunion with families on April 12. They were chosen for their good behaviour and urged to be good citizens after their release. The inmates spent time with their families from iftar (sunset) until midnight.
“Detention is a hardship for families and loved one. This initiative is a reward for well-behaved inmates,” Brig Shuhail said.
Each year, the Rulers of all emirates announce the early release of prisoners who meet specific criteria. The Rulers’ pardon is usually meant for prisoners serving sentences for minor offences. Prisoners who cannot be released until they have paid their debts can have their debts either written off completely or paid on their behalf.
Since the beginning of Ramadan, the department has settled the debts of 35 inmates, worth Dh1,457,167 in total.
The department also launched an initiative called ‘Sand’ (which means support in Arabic) for inmates’ families that offers vocational skill courses such as cooking, sewing, make-up or hairstyling, so they can earn a living while their breadwinner is in jail. The establishment also tries to find jobs for the inmates after their release, based on the skills they have acquired in prison.
Major Khalfan Salem Bin Shaqwa, director of the Educational and Rehabilitation Branch, told Gulf News although many prisoners fast, the courses provide them a welcome break from the monotony of prison life.
In Ramadan, the department hosts preachers (speaking different languages) from the Islamic Affairs Department in Sharjah and inmates benefit from these talks.
“Ramadan is a great opportunity for Muslim prisoners to strengthen their path to goodness,” said Maj Bin Shaqwa. “Ramadan helps speed up a prisoner’s journey to reform.”
The religious duties including offering regular prayers, reading the Quran, understanding the role of faith in worldly life and observing the fast, which helps to enhance their rehabilitation.
The schedule of non-Muslim prisoners remains largely the same with only slight adjustments in their food, exercise and work routines.
For many prisoners, the possibility of early release during Ramadan or Eid Al Fitr is something that occupies their minds for the remaining 11 months of the year, Maj Bin Shaqwa said, and the Sharjah Punitive and Rehabilitation Establishment’s programmes aim to reform inmates or even reduce their sentences.
“We offer a number of programmes and cater to all nationalities,” he added.
“It is our duty to also follow up on those who have been released and make sure they are doing all right. We try as much as we can, with outside partners, of course, to help them become contributing members of society by cooperating with them and helping them find jobs.”
The establishment has signed an agreement with the Sharjah Social Development Department and the Sharjah Economic Development Department to help family members of inmates learn vocational courses and upon completion of the course, grant them a licence which enables them to enter the business market.
The inmates can also display their works in exhibitions organised by either the Social Development Department or the Punitive and Rehabilitation Establishment and the income will go to the inmates’ families.
The establishment organised on April 14 for its senior inmates. As many as 32 inmates of different nationalities participated in the event. The establishment allocated a special cell for senior inmates, taking into account their age, their needs and what suits them, including the type of bed and other considerations.
Brig Shuhail said the establishment is keen to enhance inmates’ quality of life. It provides optimal services for the elderly, which contribute to the institution obtaining the title of an ‘elderly-friendly cells institution’.
Colonel Mona Sorour Al Shuwaihi, Deputy Director of the Department, reviewed the institution’s goals for 2023, which aims to involve the inmates in developing services provided to them regarding health care, besides initiatives that promote happiness and positivity.
Also, the Sharjah Institute for Heritage presented a training workshop on Arabic calligraphy skills, followed by a cultural, religious and social competition among inmates. The event also included a storytelling part where inmates could share their stories and how they ended up in prison.
Brig Shuhail said the establishment implemented a package of humanitarian initiatives in cooperation with its strategic partners during Ramadan, including the distribution of 404 food baskets to needy families of inmates, and the provision of Eid clothing for 100 of the inmates’ children.