International Chess Federation
Thursday, 20 Jun 2024 16:00
Chess for Freedom Conference: Rehabilitation through chess

The Chess for Freedom Conference, hosted by Indian Oil Corp. in collaboration with the All India Chess Federation and the Ministry of Justice, continues in Pune, India. The event explores the transformative power of chess as a rehabilitation tool in correctional facilities worldwide.

On the second day of the conference, attendees discussed concepts of teaching chess to incarcerated people. Experts from all over the world shared information about their national initiatives and approaches to teaching chess in prisons.

Ms. Rashmi Govil, Director of HR Indian Oil Corp, greeted the on-site participants from 12 countries and those joining the event online.

"In chess, every piece is unique. Every piece has its own strength and weakness. And no piece can win the board; they can only do it together. The same is true with people. You need to have a team if you want to win. Even a small pawn has a chance to reach the other side of the board and become a piece. The more I think about it, the more I understand why people here are so passionate about the game. FIDE is doing a great job, creating waves across the globe, involving more and more countries in the project," Ms. Rashmi Govil said.

Indian Oil has been leading several social responsibility programs across India. One of them, the "Parivartan – Prison to Pride" program, aims to build confidence and improve the well-being of prison inmates through sports. According to the company's values, channeling the energy of individuals in prison through sports can positively transform their lives.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart (Chicago, USA), who oversees the world's largest and oldest jail chess program, also sent a greeting speech to the conference participants. A program to teach inmates how to play chess was launched in the Cook County jail more than ten years ago, in 2012. "Our partnership with FIDE symbolizes more than just our shared passion for chess; it represents a commitment to nurturing talent, promoting education, and fostering a spirit of camaraderie among nations. Through educational programs, tournaments, and initiatives aimed at inclusivity, I am proud to work side by side with FIDE in our mission to make chess accessible to everyone, everywhere. As we look to the future, our collaboration aims to leverage the power of chess to teach critical thinking, patience, and strategic planning – skills that are invaluable in today's world," Sheriff Tom Dart said.

Speaking about the benefits of the program, Mikhail Korenman, Chess Program Coordinator at Cook County Department of Corrections and Councillor of FIDE Social Commission, shared some compelling statistics on the results of the program. According to a comprehensive study held for 3 years, participants of the chess program were involved in fewer fights and batteries than statistically similar detainees who did not play chess, both while actively enrolled in chess and before/after participation in the program. Besides, recidivism rates are also lower for those people. Participants of the chess program in the Cook County Jail were significantly less likely to be re-booked than detainees in the comparison group.

Another positive example of bringing chess to prisons was presented by Susan Namangale, Global Head of the Gift of Chess and Founder of Dadaz Chess Academy (Malawi). She has led the Gift of Chess in distributing chess sets to prisons in over 20 countries across Africa. Two teams of the Chess in Prison program in Dadaz Chess Academy attendees played the Intercontinental Chess championship among Prisoners in 2023. "Most of the prisons don't have chess sets at all. So we started distributing them. We make sure that some chess sets provided by the Gift of Chess are reaching prisons. We believe chess unlocks potential, and even one chess set can change lives. And we want to make chess as accessible as possible," Namangale said.

Another initiative by the Gift of Chess was announced during the conference. With the help of the All India Chess Federation, the Gift of Chess will distribute 29000 chess sets across India – 1000 sets for each state. Some of them will go to Indian prisons.

The Chess for Freedom Conference offered a promising outlook on utilizing chess to empower individuals and foster positive change within correctional facilities.

More presentations and panel discussions of Day 2 can be seen on FIDE YouTube here:

Text and photos: Anna Volkova