Prisoners are one of the groups most stigmatized by society. They are shut away in penitentiary centres for their actions and rehabilitation, however, on release, life is often equally or even more severe, especially for those disadvantaged and with no family support. Volunteers in the area of penitentiary services help them to overcome many of these challenges.
At present there are 468 registered volunteers, members of 49 NGOs. Their altruistic work both inside and outside the of prison is regulated and the volunteer must be enrolled in a non-profit organisation and do a training course. Most are retired people or university students in the legal or social fields. The nine Catalan prisons, which hold 8,464 inmates, have volunteers, and most activities are sociocultural programmes. Even a taste of opera in Quatre Camins and Brians 2 prisons dazzled the inmates.
“The figure of the volunteer brings value and values to the prisons... Their work is humanising,” says the Director General of Penitentiary Services, Amand Calderó. Calderó, himself involved in the creation of the NGO Justícia i Pau, in 1987 as a law student.
Xavier Badia, currently director of Justícia i Pau’s prison services also speaks of reinsertion: “What moves us to volunteer is to give to those who face difficulties. Once the sentence has been fulfilled, the person must be able to remake their life, and society must have a greater understanding in their reinsertion.”
A new service coordinated between the prisons and volunteers is the mentor who provides direct assistance outside prison walls to prisoners on parole who must find work, accommodation and especially avoid re-offending, tasks that are more difficult for those without family support.