GUANGZHOU: The Guangzhou Tan'gang Station for Re-education through Labor released 29 detainees originally from Sichuan on Tuesday.
The re-education program is generally for minor crimes such as theft, prostitution, and drug addiction. Its detention terms vary from one to four years.
Offenders are detained in facilities which are less harsh than prisons.
The detainees were released three months ahead of their terms so that they could return to the earthquake-hit regions of Sichuan to look for their families.
The move by the Tan'gang station is the first of its kind in China following a catastrophe.
"It is part of efforts of the Guangzhou administration of re-education through labor to help Sichuan people," Liao Boxiang, commissioner of the administration, said.
He said the nine re-education stations in Guangzhou have offered free telephone calls for the 180 detainees of Sichuan origin since the earthquake. About 170 were able to contact their families.
"The detainees are concerned as much as ordinary people," Liao said. "They have contributed what they can to the quake-stricken regions."
They managed to donate more than 146,000 yuan ($21,000) despite their meager income through penal labor.
"I'll do my best to help others when I get back to my hometown in Sichuan," a detainee surnamed Meng said to a local newspaper.
Meng was detained for drug addiction two years ago. Her house in the city of Nanchong collapsed during the earthquake.
Fortunately, all her family members managed to escape unharmed.