Work Together (Archive)

Cooperatives as a means of rehabilitating people

The Kbrones workers’ cooperative is the first in Argentina to have been formed inside a prison, and the second in Latin America. It was set up barely four years ago on the initiative of a group of inmates, and with the support of FECOOTRA, the Federation of Workers’ Cooperatives in Argentina.

25 May 2015

Kbrones has become well integrated in the cooperative movement, providing help to many former prisoners after their return to freedom; they turn to the organisation when in search of work. Many of them have gone on to become members of the cooperative. The president of the cooperative, Marcelo Vargas, stated: “It is complicated to set up a productive project inside a prison. People don’t even consider that work is an option. The prison service has a special area for this, run according to specific rules which are hard to understand. Having a job whilst in prison is an advantage which, alongside study, can give inmates the opportunity of an early release. The work is not seen as a job. This is the reason why our proposal for real work, real jobs, was received well by our colleagues.”

In order to create a proper structure for this, a decision was made to set up ACCEL, the Department for Cooperatives in the Context of Imprisonment and Former Inmates within FECOTRA, and to draw up the Programme for Promotion of Cooperatives for People Deprived of Liberty and Former Inmates. People housed in prison units make up one of the many vulnerable social groups that exist within society. Being deprived of one’s freedom ultimately constitutes an unshakeable stigma, which is a barrier to those who have completed their sentences when it comes to reintegrating into society and into the workforce.

This is why ACCEL resolved to facilitate the generation of work opportunities for the aforementioned group of individuals, with the aim of making the criminal sanctions imposed on them manifestly useful. “I always say that the cooperative world gave an identity to us, has brought us back into society and into the culture of work. And an education, because it also educated us. This is what we pass on to our colleagues”, stated Vargas.

The worker’s cooperative is a viable alternative for being included in life outside of prison, based on the values and principles of the cooperative model.
“In the same way as for marginalised sections of our society, or for those for whom the economic crisis has meant losing a lifelong job, cooperatives in the context of prisons can provide a viable alternative for structuring and regularising work. In this case it is not about the recovery of businesses, but about beginning the rehabilitation of people” said a FECOOTRA spokesperson.

“Our project is about setting up production facilities throughout Argentina, where all those of us who have been imprisoned can have work. We are trying to return workers to society. Work reduces levels of violence in the country, and we are in favour of this” said Julio Fuque, one of the founding members of the Kbrones Cooperative.

Crime and recidivism in Argentina

According to official figures, up to the year 2008 there were on average 3500 crimes per 100,000 inhabitants in Argentina. Crimes against property make up more than 70% of these, and have been on the rise since 1997. These statistics are for crimes reported to the police, which means that unreported incidents are not included in the figures (unreported incidents come to light through other measurements, such as surveys about victimisation). There are a very significant number of unreported incidents, the so-called dark figure, which sometimes accounts for an additional 60% on the number of reported incidents.

One variable that attracts a great deal of interest in the area of crime is recidivism. According to unofficial statistics , more than 30% of the prison population in Argentina go on to re-offend. Some of the theories regarding recidivism include incapacitation, deterrents, rehabilitation and desisting.

Faced with this scenario, in 2011 ACCEL (the Department for Cooperatives in the Context of Imprisonment and Former Inmates) was set up within FECOTRA (the Federation of Workers’ Cooperatives of The Argentinian Republic). The first goal was to provide concrete answers to the enormous needs faced by inmates of prison units, namely equal opportunities, human dignity and the dignity of work, in order to prevent reoffending and as such transform young offenders into workers.

More information is available here.