Update from Toamasina juvenile boys prison

Avonbrook continues to fund interventions in Toamasina prison’s section for convicted minors. This project is a collaboration of the prison administration, the financial support of Money for Madagascar and the SAF/FJKM Toamasina (FATAOM) unit. This project continues to prepare the children for the return to social and professional reality.  The aim is to improve their technical and relational skills, allowing them to better network with stakeholders such as: other young people, prison administration officers, the parents of the minors and FATOAM.

The number of children present in the minor’s quarter fluctuates between 40 and 52. The space is intended for around 30. The numbers vary every day due to constant discharges and newcomers. The length of a minor’s incarceration is very variable, starting from 3 months. Only the minors having committed a serious offence stay longer.

FATOAM maintains the following training :

  • Community life: this consists of games and simulations or lessons on behaviour from which individual and relational behavioural expectations are learned. The aim is to improve the relationships between the minors themselves during their time in prison as well as for their future relationships following their release. This has been very successful. The relationships between the boys has improved markedly. Previously the new boys were badly treated when they arrived, but now the established in-mates are more welcoming to new boys. The boys are also noticeably less violent. In addition the games the boys play also improve other skills like their powers of recall and memory.
  • Worm farming: this concerns the production of worms via vermiculture/vermicomposting or ‘worm composting’. It entails showing the minors how to prepare food for the worms using degradable rubbish and the making of vermicomposters using bottles and other packaging. The theoretical and technical training is followed by practical application. Long-serving boys have successfully passed on their skills to new arrivals.
  • Soil-less farming: this consists of providing the techniques of agricultural production in plastic bags. Boys have been successful in acquiring the theoretical understanding of how to grow food. This is a very important skill to have acquired for life after prison. However boys who only spend a short time in prison, for example 3 months or less, do not really have enough to time to get much experience in hands-on growing food themselves.
  • Recycled fuel pellets: this involves making combustible pellets from coal dust or charred organic materials like leaves and then mixing this with earth or clay which acts as a glue. At the beginning FATOAM supplied all the materials necessary to make the fuel pellets. We are pleased that the prison staff are now taking increasing responsibility to source the materials needed for this activity. This is a good indication that the staff appreciate the value of this activity. The boys have also proved very interested in this activity as they can see the direct use of their produce in cooking their daily meal. Some boys are starting to understand that is will be a useful skill to meet their daily needs and to generate an income once they leave prison.

Since FATOAM started to work with Toamasina Prison other organisations have also become involved and interested in helping the prisoners. The team from FATOAM goes into the prison every Tuesday and Friday to work with the boys. Once on site the FATOAM team receives regular support from the prison staff which adds to cooperation and shared learning.

The transfer of knowledge and skills is also facilitated by the children who pass the knowledge between them. FATOAM use a ‘cascade’ system whereby the children who have followed the course demonstrate what they have learned to newly arrived inmates. This helps to reinforce the learning and confidence of the longer term inmates as well as helping the learning of the new comers.