New prison program in El Salvador aims to equip inmates with job skills

World Today

In El Salvador, a crackdown in recent years on gang violence has taken many criminals off the streets but it also led to extreme overcrowding in the nation’s prisons. But inside one prison, there’s now a program bringing more humane conditions for inmates, and new hope for their future. CGTN’s Franc Contreras reports.

Overcrowded jails in El Salvador are often referred to as human warehouses with dozens of inmates packed inside, but at La Esperanza prison in San Salvador, there are efforts at genuine rehabilitation, with a relatively new prison program called “Yo Cambio” or ‘I change.’

Inmates accepted into the program must show remorse for their crimes, which include armed robbery and extortion. They’re given opportunities to turn their lives around.

Prisoners who cling to negative attitudes and behaviors are kept in handcuffs.

Inmates participating in “Yo Cambio” get an entirely different prison experience and receive help such as being equipped with skills that can help them with job searches once they finish their prison sentences.

A clothing factory in the prison employs 155 inmates, many of them using industrial quality sewing machines. In the coming days they’ll finishing making 1000 black t-shirts for an outside client. 

La Esperanza prison warden, Mauricio Mira Aguirre is one of the architects of Yo Cambio. Before it, he said Salvadoran prisons were places where young men learned to commit more crimes.

The program allows us to show inmates what is necessary for them to truly change their mentalities and return to society as a different person,” Aguirre said.

26-year-old Alexander Anzora, an inmate, said the program has given him a new outlook on life.

“I have many plans for that and I intend to do it through painting, through art: keep painting and showing people that we are human beings and we need a second chance,” Anzora said.