With reporting from Heba Fahmy
In response to growing demand, a new online store has been set up to sell artwork and handicrafts produced by inmates in Qatar’s prisons.
The items were created as part of an ongoing social rehabilitation program that encourages inmates to learn different trades.
Prisoners can take classes in painting, carpentry, blacksmithing and other crafts, and then produce a range of items reflecting local culture and traditions, netting a portion of the profits from the sales.
For a number of years, these products have been sold through regular exhibitions such as the annual Made In Qatar expo, which showcases locally made items.
According to the Qatar Tribune, the success of previous events is what prompted the Ministry of Interior’s Penal and Correctional Institutions Department (PCID) to set up a new dedicated website, which would make it easier for the public to view and order the items.
The new site, Al Matgar Al Electrony Lel Nozalaa (online shop for inmates’ products), features dozens of items, from paintings of traditional Qatari and Gulf landmarks to hand-stitched clothing and accessories.
Starting at QR50 for women’s knitted hats and material-covered buttons, other highlights of the online store include hand-carved wooden decorative chests popular in the Gulf for QR3,500; model dhows for QR7,000; a metal tea trolley covered in locally-woven fabric for QR2,500 and a 1m-high wooden incense burner for QR1,500.
There are around three dozen art works for sale, featuring scenes of old Qatar or local and regional heritage. A painting of old Al Khor creek is marked at QR7,000, while a depiction of a traditional doorway is on sale for QR3,500.
Interested buyers can view all the products online, then complete the order form to reserve goods. Cash is payable on delivery.
Previously, officials have said that prisoners receive about half the proceeds made from the sale, after deducting the initial costs of raw materials.
The head of welfare and rehabilitation at PCID, Colonel Jassim al-Kaabi told Gulf Times two years ago that some 25 male prisoners and 13 female inmates were taking part in making the products.
At the time, these were sold through around 10 exhibitions a year, achieving average annual sales of around QR40,000.
The revenue would either be saved for inmates until they were released, or used to buy items from the prison cafeteria, al-Kaabi said at the time.
Inmate art abroad
Internationally, several other countries have established programs to sell prisoner artworks and handicrafts.
The Prison Arts Coalition, for example, is a US-based national network that acts as an advisory body to prison art groups in the states. While it has an online gallery, it does not sell work directly from its website.
Meanwhile, the UK-based social enterprise Fine Cell Work teaches needlework to prisoners in British jails, and sells quilts, cushions, bags, wall-hangings and accessories online and through regular exhibitions and events.
And the Austrian Justice Ministry also runs a website for buyers to purchase prisoner’s handmade art and crafts.
Do you plan to check out Qatar’s new site? Thoughts?