Community plan eases prison pressure

By Liu Weifeng (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-07-20 06:51

The government is planning to extend its pilot four-year community correction program to ease pressure on its overcrowded prisons, sources said.

At the end of last year, some 1.5 million prisoners were serving time in about 600 correctional facilities, according to a source; and another told China Daily that many of the country's prisons are at maximum capacity.

Judicial experts believe the community correction program, which began as an experiment four years ago, is a feasible means of reducing prison congestion, and a remarkable step in judicial reform.

As of March 2007, 102,932 criminals had taken part in the out-of-jail program in 507 counties and districts in 24 provinces.

One-third, or 37,779 prisoners, had finished their terms, with the remaining 65,153 still serving out their community-based penalty period.

Related readings:
Man gets death for slavery scandal
8-man prison break foiled
Beijing opens first counseling clinic for prisoners
Xinjiang secessionist sentenced to 9 years in prison
Prisoners 'need more counseling'
Prisoners get exercises
"Besides alleviating pressure on prisons, community correction is a lenient penalty and a common practice in developed countries," Wu Zongxian, professor at the criminal law research institute affiliated to the Beijing Normal University, told China Daily.

Only those considered "low risk" can serve community correction. They include prisoners who are under probation or supervised release.

They can lead a normal life and be gainfully employed except for regularly reporting to various authorities.

Rong Rong, director of the Beijing Chaoyang District Justice Bureau, a pioneer in the field, said community correction was a more humane alternative to hard time behind bars.

As one of the first to take part in the community correction program in 2003, Chaoyang District has witnessed "optimistic results" with less than 1 per cent of those in the program relapsing into crime.

Although the capacity of China's prisons is not known, an earlier report said the number of prisoners was 240,000 more than the facilities could hold in 2000.

The average cost of accommodating a prisoner is equivalent to that of a college student, about 8,000 yuan ($1,053) per year, and alternative methods are needed to rehabilitate inmates, experts said.

Prison congestion first appeared in South China in the 1980s, Wu said, adding that in recent years, the problem has spread to most parts of China, except the western provinces.

According to Wu, room for eating and sleeping is shrinking quickly. Rooms designed for re-education and extracurricular activities have had to be converted into extra lock-up space.

While community correctional programs can help solve the problem, Rong admitted there is room for the system to improve.

"We need a law to guide and standardize our work," he said.

Program advocates argue that a specific legal framework is needed for the scheme.

(China Daily 07/20/2007 page1)

Top China News  
Today's Top News  
Most Commented/Read Stories in 48 Hours