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Prison opens to visitors of all sorts
By Zhang Yong (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-03-26 00:51

Prisons are no longer "mysterious forbidden areas" now that Shanghai Baoshan Prison has decided to open itself up to the public regularly.

A new policy called "Open Day," was unveiled Thursday by the prison staff under which any Chinese citizen over 16 years old can visit the prison,located in the city's northern suburbs.

The "Open Day" is set to be on the last Thursday of every month and each time there is a limit of 40 individual visitors. They must register in advance by calling 86-21-56013700-2303 between 9 am and 11 am on Tuesdays and Thursdays, according to the prison.

The prison Thursday also received the first batch of individual visitors, mainly university students, local government officials, and prisoner relatives.

"We sincerely welcome ordinary individual visitors and we expect to have our prison administration supervised by the whole society," said Chen Yaoxin, chief of the prison. "Such an initiative will be very meaningful."

Originally, local prisons were only open to group visits by social organizations like schools and government departments.

But now any qualified individual can stop by to learn more about criminals' lives and the prison's daily operations.

Visitors will be allowed to take a look at most facilities in the prisons including criminals' dorms, kitchens, dining rooms, workshops, visiting booths and a supermarket and clinic.

"I think (Shanghai) Baoshan Prison's initiative represents progress in human rights," said Zhang Gufeng, a Shanghai Prison Administration Bureau official.

In the coming years, other prisons in Shanghai may also open to the public, said Zhang.

Zhou Quanxiang, a visitor from Shanghai's Putuo District, told China Daily Thursday: "I heard some unconfirmed stories on inhumane prisons before, but what I see here now is much better than I expected."

"Anyway, the public can see for themselves now," said Zhou, who is a social worker.

In addition, Shanghai's prisons have taken a series of other humanitarian measures, including no longer forcing inmates to have all their hair cut. Instead, they are able to choose from three styles: bald, flattop or short hair.

Prisoners are allowed to wear watches and will have annual health check-ups, according to the bureau.

In Shanghai Baoshan Prison, criminals now can make a call to their relatives or close friends every week. In some cases video telephones are provided, and police also help prisoners receive and send e-mail.

Next to the supermarket in the prison, a special office for protecting criminals' rights was established by the Shanghai Consumers' Rights and Interests Protection Commission earlier this year.

Special visiting rooms, which are decorated in a warmer and more friendly way, have opened for the visiting children of prisoners earlier this year. In those rooms criminals can talk to their children face to face and there are even some free toys for the kids.

Shanghai Baoshan Prison, established in 1998, now holds around 2,000 criminals and is regarded as the city's most modern and beautiful prison.

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