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Inmates get the gift of family for holidays
( 2004-01-15 22:40) (China Daily)

Some of Beijing's jail inmates now have an opportunity to meet their family members without guards hovering over them , under a new programme at a minimum security lockup, officials say.

The effort allows prisoners' relatives to supervise the work of inmates at several area detention houses.

More than 20 prisoners yesterday held special family reunions at the Haidian District lockup in Beijing.

The reunion was held to celebrate the upcoming Spring Festival

Without guards, prisoners had free time to talk with their parents, spouses, children or other relatives at a meeting hall in the detention house, and also had lunch.

Bai Gang, director of the prison,told China Daily prisoners in the past could only meet family members with guards standing by, which may have left many feeling uneasy.

Moreover,time spans for meetings was limited in the past.

"My detention house launched the activity of family reunions in 2000 in order to create an better environment for communication between prisoners and their relatives," said Bai. "We usually hold such gatherings a few days before important holidays and festivals, such as Spring Festival and National Day."

Bai's facility is for prisoners convicted of minor infractions, resulting from sentences of one year or less. Some of the inmates are awaiting trial.

He said that almost all the detention houses in Beijing have followed the example of his prison and carried out such activities to give detention a more "human'' touch.

"Our most important aim for family reunions is to let the prisoners' relatives know more about the detention house and living conditions of the prisoners here," said Bai. "The more the relatives know, the more transparency of our work we have,the more social supervision we have, the more we can improve our management."

And the prisoners who met with relatives yesterday are those who have exhibited good behaviour.A 22-year-old inmate surnamed Yang is one.

Yang was sentenced to one year's imprisonment for fraud last July.

His parents came to the detention house yesterday bringing candies, chocolates and other snacks.

Yang recited a poem he wrote to his mother.

"Mam, I know I have done wrong. Please forgive me,"Yang said., who indicated he had mixed feelings to meet his parents, some of excitement and some of remorse.

"Actually, I am grateful to have an opportunity for a family reunion before Spring Festival. It is the first time I will spend the holiday not at my home. I missed my parents very much," Yang told China Daily.

Yang's parents say they have already had such a family reunion in October of last year, and had talked by telephone with their son a couple of months before.

They feel somewhat relieved to know Yang is living at the detention house where he has access to books and newspapers every day.

However, what most concerns of them is that Yang is living with about a dozen criminals in a large dormitory area, where he could learn bad habits or be bullied.

Bai said he has worked with the Red Cross Society in Beijing Branch for two years to take care of patients' health..

Every afternoon, four nurses with the Red Cross come to the lockup and provide health tests and treatments, as well as medicines to the prisoners who are sick.

The Red Cross has so far donated more than 100,000 yuan (US$12,100) worth of medicine and equipments to the detention house, said Bai.

"Just a couple of days before, some health workers with the Red Cross visited us and had a small get-together with the prisoners,'' Bai said.

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