[Editor's Note: Ajowa Ifateyo wrote about Puerto Rico's prison cooperatives for GEO in 2015.]
My initial research of the prison co-ops in Puerto Rico uncovered a bottom-up approach and transformative growth among the co-op members.11 It was the incarcerated citizens themselves who demanded co-op business education and the right to own their own co-ops. They petitioned for a change in commonwealth law and then founded Cooperativa ARIGOS. Creating their own dignified work, controlling their own businesses together with other inmates, and earning enough money to help support their families, made a huge difference in every aspect of their lives—including commuted sentences and very low recidivism.
The Puerto Rican League of Cooperatives (Liga de Cooperativas de Puerto Rico) works with the Corrections Department to establish worker/producer cooperatives among incarcerated people in their facilities. They supported incarcerated people in changing Puerto Rico’s co-op law to allow incarcerated people to own their own co-ops and provide co-op education to incarcerated worker-owners. Four worker co-ops currently exist in Puerto Rican prisons—art, solar, and technology co-ops in men’s prisons, and a sewing co-op in a women’s prison—and a fifth is in development.