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Italian Prison Program Trains Female Prisoners in Fashion Industry

Leave it to the Italians to extend their love of fashion to a women's prison. At the Rebibbia facility in Rome, the well-known fashion house of Fendi is supporting a voluntary training program where women prisoners manufacture handbags.

Soon to be marketed under the Sigillo (Seal) brand, the handbags, which sell for up to 40 Euros each (around $53), provide valuable work experience that participants hope will land them jobs once they're released. Prisoners currently earn about 150 Euros per month for working three afternoons a week. As the program continues to grow, it is anticipated that participants will earn close to 600 Euros per month, comparable to wages in the private garment industry.

Italian Justice Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri has called her nation's prison system "not worthy of a civilized country," and observed that prisons are overcrowded and underfunded. Nanda Roscioli, a former justice ministry employee and current consultant for the Sigillo program, said the Italian prison system is geared more to the needs of male prisoners, leaving women to suffer conditions that are "harsher [and] more barbaric."

Roscioli sees hope in the new training program, though, noting that "the aim of the project is to give female detainees the tools to be in the marketplace once they are released.... As far as I know this program is unique." The project has 800,000 Euros in funding, half from the justice ministry and half from charitable groups.

Current participants, such as prisoner Kalu Uwaezuoke Chinedum Ike, indicated they enjoy the training program. "When I get out I want to have a more normal, a calmer life," she said. "With this job I'm sure everything will be okay with me. I've learned a lot here."

Another prisoner, identified only as Natalya, echoed that sentiment, stating, "For a time, we feel psychologically that we are not inside these walls.... Sigillo is also about personal satisfaction. When we create things and they are sold, are appreciated, then we enjoy our work. When I get out of here, I would like to open a shop."


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