A ‘win-win-win’ situation for prisons, inmates and employers

Iwaki is looking to hire more parolees through JPM’s CSI programme.

“WE want to achieve the prison’s goal of two-thirds being out of prison by 2030, working outside, ” says Osman Lehan, deputy director of the parole and community service division of the Prisons Department Malaysia (JPM).

“We are committed to localising our skilled workers and reducing our foreign workers, ” says Hiroyuki Iwaki, managing director of Panasonic Appliances Air-Condi-tioning Malaysia.

“Give ex-prisoners a chance so that their future is ensured with programmes like Corporate Smart Internship, ” says Muhammad (not his real name), 31, who completed his eight-month parole at Panasonic last month. He is now an employee on six months’ probation in the company, looking forward to a bonus and annual increment later this year.

The path to achieving these different goals appears to be through Corporate Smart Internship (CSI) and other programmes introduced by JPM. The parole system began in 2008 to help prisoners compete in the job market, reduce recidivism, reduce dependence on foreign labour, and remove prejudices against ex-prisoners. Since then, over 33,000 parolees have gone through the programme across the country.

CSI was introduced in 2016 and there are now 90 companies in 136 locations providing jobs for 3,356 parolees and supervised prisoners. Parolees like Muhammad come under the Parole Board and have to live in lodgings provided by their employer.

The supervised prisoners programme began in 2018 and there are now 12 companies hiring about 150 supervised prisoners in more than 140 locations. Unlike parolees, they come under Prison Regulations 2000 and are supervised by prison officials. They can either stay in prison and work within a 40km radius or be housed by their employer in a place gazetted as a “temporary prison” and that follows prison rules.

Osman says this year’s Key Performance Indicator is to have 2,000 inmates on parole and 200 supervised prisoners.

After taking part in the CSI programme, some parolees have earned enough money to start their own business such as hair salons, working in their family oil palm or vegetable smallholdings, becoming plumbing contractors or starting a transport business, he says.

And recidivism (which JPM defines as no further offences within three years of release from prison) is only 0.44% for parolees – compared with 10.8% for prisoners released directly into the community.

Panasonic started the CSI programme at its Plant 2, which manufacturers compressors, in June last year and hired 328 parolees.

“Before they start, there is a one-week training programme designed for them, ” says head of corporate human resources Datuk Moktar Mohd Salleh. He tells supervisors and the management team not to question these workers’ past history.

“Give them a second chance to start a new life, ” he says.

And from the start of the programme, there have been no problems. Panasonic has a very close relationship with JPM, adds Moktar. Parole officers and Panasonic supervisors meet regularly to discuss the parolees’ work.

Before his arrest, Muhammad had worked as a welder in his kampung in Melaka. He was sentenced to prison in 2015 but released on parole in July last year. Panasonic’s direct manufacturing director Jason Thang says Muhammad is now one of 30 parolees chosen for the company’s Total Productive Manage-ment programme, which will move them from operators to skilled workers.

“I decided to stay because if I had gone back to my kampung, I might not have found work, ” says Muhammad.

His advice to other parolees is to “open a new book and don’t make the same mistakes”.

“If we don’t show that we are disciplined, people will look down on us.”

Panasonic Appliances Air-Conditioning Malaysia is one of the biggest employers of parolees, and Iwaki wants to hire even more.

“After we make sure we can manage this scheme, ” he adds, “maybe we can introduce it to our sister companies here.”

The company currently employs between 1,400 and 1,500 foreign workers, but Iwaki’s long-term plan is to also hire female parolees and then supervised prisoners.

“Our target now is 475 parolees for both Plant 1 (which produces air-conditioners) and Plant 2, ” he says.

“In future, we plan to take 400 supervised prisoners. If we build this up, maybe we will have zero foreign workers in the factory.”

He also sees participation in the programme as a way for the company to give back to society.

For Muhammad, CSI did not just offer him a new career. He also met his life partner while working at the Panasonic plant, and will be getting married after Hari Raya this year.

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