Jail inmates in Maharashtra making quality footwear for online sale
'Inmate' is the result of a collaborative effort between the state prison department and a Mumbai-based private company. The objective is to equip convicts with skills that can land them jobs in industries once they are released, and not limit them to traditional programmes such as baking and weaving.
The workshop operates inside Yerwada prison in Pune. It started with just 10 convicts, who were shortlisted by jail authorities, a year and a half ago.
Professionals from Tergus Works Pvt Ltd (the holding company for the Inmate brand) further whittled down the list.
"It was important for us that the final product was of high quality and could be shipped internationally in future. We wanted convicts who believed they had a shot at rehabilitation and would do the job long term. Some had previous experience in making footwear and they were given priority," said Divej Mehta, founder of Inmate. Raw material and supervisors came from Tergus, while workers, machinery and a place to function were provided by the prison.
Initially, the convicts only made leather uppers which were exported by Tergus to other footwear brands. After six months of training, production for Inmate started as the company was confident that the quality of footwear was at par with other top brands. Currently, 1,200 pairs are available for sale on the Inmate website. Tergus is also doing marketing and promotion on social media.
"Our strength has now increased to 60 workers across castes and communities who are between 18 and 65 years. Trainers are always present at the Yerwada workshop as fresh batches of convicts enrol from time to time," said Mehta.
A pair of Inmate footwear costs Rs 2,500 upward. The company pays the prison Rs 200 per worker per day. According to prison rules, convicts can be paid only Rs 55 a day for skilled labour. So the rest of the money goes toward welfare of prisoners.
"Earlier, convicts at Yerwada prison used to make shoes and uniforms for personnel from the police department. But three years ago, orders started reducing drastically after the government started paying a lumpsum to policemen to procure these. This affected our convicts' work," said deputy inspector general (prisons) Swati Sathe. She added this was the first time convicts were engaged in making premium segment leather footwear to be retailed nationally.
Convicts engaged in making Inmate footwear have an assured employment offer post release. Tergus is looking to set up units where convicts can join regular factory workers post release, if they wish to do so. "Going ahead, the plan is to have as many factories as prisons to step up production capacity as well as truly provide a second chance to convicts," Mehta said.