Putting Things in Focus: How Offenders at Fenbrook Institution Are Gaining Skills in the Eyewear Industry

Inmates in a new CORCAN program at Fenbrook Institution are helping their fellow offenders get some focus in their lives. Literally.

"We've built the only state-of-the-art eyewear lab in Canada run by offenders," says Scott Spencer, CORCAN's Operation Manager at Fenbrook.

Inspired by a similar program in the U.S., the Fenbrook lab was created in September 2012. The lab currently provides corrective eyewear to inmates throughout the entire Ontario Region.

For offender Mohan, this program offers a fascinating glimpse into an employment option he may never have considered. "I'm learning so many new skills," he says, "such as reading prescriptions, tracing frames, and grinding lens. I've also learned clerical work including inventory control, shipping documents, costing of custom orders, and computer skills."

Not only does the eyewear lab employ offenders, but it was built by them. "One of CORCAN programs here at Fenbrook is a wood shop," says Scott Spencer. "We were able to custom build the lab using offenders trained in the wood shop."

It is a win-win operation on many fronts. Supplying prescription eyewear to Correctional Service of Canada offenders reduces costs. Research has also shown that it prepares offenders for employment and leads to a reduction in reoffending, particularly for offenders who are on parole.

"We won't consider it a complete success until we are not only producing eyewear to our full capacity but also turning that success into offenders being employed in the community due to the skills they've gained," says Scott Spencer.

After being trained on the most current technology, offenders will have the knowledge and skills to be able to work in any established lab upon release. They will also have gained valuable experience by listening and following instructions, learning to be responsible and accountable for their actions and working as part of a team.

The skills gained by offenders in this program will not only benefit them in any workplace, but in all aspects of their lives. With this training, they will be better prepared for their return to society — increasing their chances of successful reintegration, and thus safer communities for all Canadians.

Offender Mohan fixing a pair of glasses.

Offender Mohan fixing a pair of glasses.