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NEWS | Nov. 10, 2010

Detainees prepare for return to Afghan society

By Master Sgt. Adam M. Stump , Combined Joint Interagency Task Force 435

PARWAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Nov. 10, 2010) — In a small outdoor hut at the Detention Facility in Parwan, detainees diligently knead dough on a table to put into a tandoor oven, which will turn the dough into Afghan bread in a matter of minutes. Inside a large warehouse-like room outside of the housing unit, a detainee uses his hands to guide cloth through a sewing machine as his feet push on a pedal to power the needle, repairing a white uniform seam that has come unstitched. In a classroom inside the housing unit, detainees sit at desks, writing English and Pashto sentences under the watchful eye of an Afghan instructor, helping them achieve literacy in a first or second language.

It’s all part of a reintegration process to enable detainees to return to Afghan society.

Reintegration begins when detainees are processed into the detention facility. Afghan counselors, mainly Pashtuns, sit down with detainees one-on-one to talk about their needs and how to become productive citizens of Afghanistan, said U.S. Army Col. Kevin Burk, team chief for reintegration at the detention facility.

“The counselors focus on the needs of the detainee in terms of education and vocational skills that we may be able to provide them here,” Burk said. “The purpose of this is to start the reintegration process, which begins at the time the detainee arrives at the facility and endures the whole time he is here until he is eventually released. What we hope to do in that time is address the needs of the detainees such that they have options other than engaging in the insurgency.”

One of the counselors said reintegration classes and the purpose of the classes are explained during the vocational interview.

“We tell the detainees that we have different classes, like vocational classes and educational classes,” the counselor said. “During the interview, [we ask] the detainees [how they] will benefit most from what class. The benefit for them is when they’re released, they gain something to bring back home and help their children and maybe some of them will open small businesses like tailoring shops and these things.”

The literacy programs are among the most popular for the detainees. There are about 30 detainees in English classes and dozens more who are learning Dari or Pashto. Detainees are tested to ensure they are literate in their native language before enrolling in the classes, which are approved and certified by the Afghan Ministry of Education. Upon completion of the program, the detainees receive a certificate from the ministry.

Another of the detainee choices is the agriculture program, which currently has about 80 detainees enrolled, said Jim Conley, an instructor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There are three classes for detainees who farm outside for an hour and a half one day a week with classroom instruction for an hour and a half two days a week.

The Detention Facility in Parwan’s agriculture program exposes detainees to different agricultural methods to grow crops more efficiently.  One such method is drip irrigation, which provides a higher yield from the crops, according to Conley. The drip irrigation system taught to detainees functions by using barrels on six foot stands connecting to drip irrigation tape running alongside the row of crops. The water flows by gravity and waters the plants. Drip irrigation is more efficient than traditional flood irrigation, Conley said. He added the drip equipment is available here in Afghanistan, is relatively inexpensive and enables users to farm more land with the same amount of water.

“We’re trying to show them some new technology, but appropriate technology for Afghanistan,” Conley said.

Detainees learn other farming techniques to improve crop yield. One of these is using trellises to grow grapes, which Conley said will help detainees learn the value of growing crops off the ground, which will double their output. Additionally detainees learn to develop compost heaps from kitchen waste to improve the soil richness, Conley said.

Another reintegration program offered to detainees is bread making. Currently, detainees are taught the traditional Afghan method using a tandoor oven, which is a metal drum situated in the ground, filled with either wood or charcoal. The detainees knead bread on a table, then stick the flattened dough to the side of the oven. Eventually, detainees will learn to bake bread in a conventional oven in the detention facility kitchen. Burk said once the oven is installed, the plan is for the detainees to cook their own bread, a skill they can take back to their villages upon their release from the detention facility.

Detainees also have the option to learn tailoring. The DFIP offers two basic tailoring classes and an advanced tailoring class. The detainees in these classes learn tailoring skills by sewing their own sets of traditional Afghan clothing. There are two professional Afghan tailoring instructors teaching the classes, using foot pedal-powered machines available in Afghanistan.

These reintegration programs offer detainees a choice to develop skills to use in their villages once they are released.

“They really appreciate the opportunity to take classes,” Burk said. “In fact, we now have a waiting list for detainees who wish to enroll. I think they appreciate the fact we are trying to do something to afford them a better chance of reintegrating back into society. It supports an overall program of the command to create a detention environment—understanding that it is still detention—that is humane. We treat them with respect. We respect their religion and we afford them an opportunity to better themselves so that when they do go back home, they have choices other than the insurgency.”

“We have found that detainees will tell us that they couldn’t read before they got here,” Burk said. “We’ve even had detainees read things to us, to my instructors, to my interpreters. It’s an emotional event for them because before, they could not read. Now, they can and so they will go home and they will be able to read to their children and they will be able to prove that they have bettered themselves through this experience. That’s powerful.”

The programs, developed since June, have undergone modifications over the past few months, Burk said. There are plans to modify English instruction so it’s modeled after Kabul University and to offer different vocational classes, such as construction trades like masonry, plumbing and carpentry.

The DFIP’s reintegration team works closely with the Ministry of Justice Central Prison Directorate, the Ministry of Education, and other key Afghan ministries, agencies and non-governmental organizations.

“[We want] to ensure what we’re doing here is Afghan sustainable, meaning that it’s what the Afghans will do once we leave,” Burk said. “Every program I’m developing, I’m working with my Afghan partners… They’re assisting me in developing these programs in making sure it is what the Afghans will do when they take over.”

There is an additional incentive for detainees to take the courses: the information is provided to the detainee review board, which decides by a preponderance of the evidence whether a detainee meets the criteria for detention and, if so, whether continued internment is necessary to mitigate the threat the detainee may pose.

“The information is provided to the detainee review board so it is taken into consideration that they have taken classes, that they attempted things to improve themselves and that is used by the DRB in addition to other items to determine whether or not the detainee should be released,” Burk said.

As the detention facility transitions, conditions permitting, from Combined Joint Interagency Task Force 435 to Afghan control, the Afghans have indicated they plan to continue the education and training programs because of their importance to the success of the former detainees and their villages.

“Afghans want no war and no fighting,” said Afghan National Army Col. Mohammed Ataie, the senior Central Prisons Directorate officer at the DFIP. “Our job is to train and teach them. The best thing is the education. Detainees can go back to their village and follow law and order, and follow the constitution of Afghanistan.”

Ataie said CPD had special programs throughout its other facilities and has a plan for the DFIP as well.

“We are happy with the education,” he said. “There are good literacy programs here. Detainees are happy with the programs and this is good for the people of Afghanistan. It is very important. That’s why we want to give them skills. It will help them help their family and earn money. They will be valuable to their community and their family.”