DUBAI // Prisoners in Dubai jails are losing more than their liberty.
Police have introduced a new weight-reduction programme to help to keep convicts in shape.
The scheme is open to all prisoners who weigh more than 100kg, and those who lose most weight will win an undisclosed cash prize.
Reduced weight will not, however, lead to a reduced sentence: for that, prisoners must memorise the Quran.
Inmates who can recite the whole Quran from memory earn a maximum of 20 years off their sentence. There is then a sliding scale, from 15 years' remission for memorising 20 parts of the Quran, to six months for memorising three parts.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the number of inmates who participated in the Quran programme nearly quadrupled in 2010 compared with the year before.
The schemes are among a series of humanitarian efforts by Dubai Police aimed at enhancing and nurturing prisoners' psychological and physical health.
Some of the opportunities on offer to convicts might inspire envy among law-abiding residents who are not behind bars. For example, prisoners are offered a three-year car mechanics training programme that would normally cost Dh300,000, provided free by Dubai Police, Al Futtaim Motors and Juma Al Majid training centre.
Maj Gen Mohammed Hamid Al Suwaidi, director general of the Department of Punitive and Correctional Establishments, says such vocational and educational efforts help prisoners to resume their lives after they are released.
"Such rehabilitation methods will allow prisoners to re-enter the community as members of society," he said. "They can learn a profession and earn a living."
Participation in vocational and sports training programmes doubled last year, while the number who committed offences decreased significantly.
Female prisoners have the opportunity to train in sewing and beading of shaylas and abayas with manufacturer Hanayen Group. The products are then sold to the public through exhibitions.
Prisoners can also complete primary and secondary school and learn how to use the latest computer software.
Inmates have access to a 3,000-book library, where they can take literacy courses. More than 2,500 inmates visited the library last year.
Recent agreements with the Municipality of Dubai will allow the department to borrow 200 additional books from the public library every month.
A variety of religious initiatives are also offered, including lectures in a variety of languages and religious competitions. Last year, 1,260 inmates joined these programmes, with 80 inmates converting to Islam.
Optional religious lectures are offered in Arabic, English, Russian, Chinese, Urdu and Filipino.
Once prisoners have completed their sentence and been released from jail, rehabilitation programmes may help them to find a job. Vocational training fields include mechanics, welding, upholstery, first-aid, firefighting, painting and woodwork.
The department is also looking to various charities, volunteers and donators to help those who have been imprisoned for financial reasons.
As The National reported last month, a donation of Dh1 million was recently made by an anonymous Emirati benefactor freed more than 20 prisoners with unpaid debts.
"The holy month of Ramadan is a month of good things," Maj Gen Al Suwaidi said. "And this gesture reflects our tireless efforts to support this category of society."