Central prisons in Tamil Nadu are set to become factories with the State government clearing a proposal to establish a Prison Bazaar.

The ambitious project aims at enhancing the variety, quality and quantity of prison products and making them available in the retail market. With Freedom as its brand name, the prison products will deviate from the conventional practice of catering to government departments and enter the open market.

According to prison sources, qualified trainers have been identified to expose the inmates to the use of modern technology in the manufacturing industry. While competing in the market, the Freedom brand is expected to have an edge in terms of pricing even as prison authorities maintain there will be no compromise on quality. The prison industry extends to nine central prisons, three special prisons for women and nine district jails across the State where approximately 11,000 inmates are lodged.

Additional Director-General of Police (Prisons) S.K. Dogra says the acceptance of the Prison Bazaar concept was the most consequential step towards a comprehensive prison reforms programme.

“Once this concept is put into practice, the prisons will become factories. This will give multiple benefits such as utilising the man-hours available in the prison, employing inmates in a productive manner etc. The Chief Minister has a modern outlook and liberally supports all efforts towards systemic transformational changes.”

As part of the Prison Bazaar initiative, the inmates will be trained in productive skills, which they can utilise to earn a living after release.

The prisons, already into textile, leather, soaps, books, bakery and other industries, will enhance their range of products depending upon the market conditions.

Underlining the need for being quality conscious, Mr. Dogra says: “So far we were manufacturing goods for the police and other departments. Such government clients are not very demanding in terms of pricing, delivery schedule and quality, although we ourselves try to maintain this. But once you operate in the open market, you have to adopt the best commercial practices. So, naturally the entire process of manufacturing will have to move up the scale in terms of efficiency and quality.”

On how the project will help the prisoners, he says under the new system, the inmates will acquire the latest manufacturing techniques. On release from the prison, they will emerge as a trained, qualified and skilled labour. A portion of the revenue generated through the Prison Bazaar will be credited to their account.

Mr. Dogra says research will be done to decide upon the range of products to be manufactured in prisons. “I don't see any difficulty in marketing the products. Many of the prison inmates are highly skilled. Since they do not have any diversions within the prison, they usually work with greater focus. Also, we might work for a tie-up with organisations that may prefer goods produced in prisons because of the social reformation angle.”