Of the 13 men the charity has been working with in Victoria, seven have also found work in jobs including costume-making and leatherwork – a hugely promising start for the hub, which will aim to make participants as employable as possible. ‘Ex-offenders face huge barriers… It’s a nonsense really,’ says Emck. ‘Obviously justice has to be done, but it’s an ineffective system as so many go back [inside], and can’t function properly after imprisonment. It’s extremely expensive, sad and chaotic.’
For Emck, the charity’s expansion this year is hopefully just the beginning of a new chapter for Fine Cell Work and the prisoners it works with. While it is sticking with needles and thread for the foreseeable future, Emck believes the charity could one day expand to provide training in other crafts: ‘We want to extend as a model. I completely believe that craftwork in prisons is a very good model for training and rehabilitation, because all kinds of craftwork take a long time, and are not very cost-effective outside, except in places like China and India. The pay just doesn’t equate with the hours they take. But in prison, craftwork has always existed, and always will, because people want to do things with their hands.’
While much has been achieved by the charity over the past two decades, its director’s focus remains practical, looking to the year ahead: ‘There is work out there, so that’s what we want to make people ready for. We know there are lots of niche craft skills that it’s really hard to find workers for, like glove-making or tie-finishing. We’d like people to be able to approach us for those kinds of hand-work – we hope to be known as the place you can come to find these types of skills.’
As prison populations continue to swell, and inmates are confined to their cells for increasing lengths of time, it’s a mission that seems as worthy of our attention as ever.
This article first appeared in issue 265 of Crafts magazine