Ayear after he was released from prison, Zhou Liguo was at his lowest ebb. “Things were too bitter to bear. I had no family support, and no one wanted to help me,” said the 42- year- old, who was released in 2009 after serving five years for causing intentional bodily harm.
Zhou was desperate. Abandoned by society and his family, the businessman from the northeastern province of Liaoning said he felt as though he had nothing to look forward to, but he refused to give up hope. With the help of an old friend, he secured work in a factory and quietly began setting up a business in stone goods, the sector he had worked in before his incarceration. Three years later, he owns his own business, and although he isn’t rich, he is happy.
However, not all ex-inmates are as fortunate or driven as Zhou. The problems associated with leaving prison, especially after serving a long sentence, can prove insurmountable for many ex-inmates. For some, a failure to find work and rejection by their families are compounded by the stigma attached to their status as ex-cons.
For others, age and ill health may also prove stumbling blocks. Peng Lin (not his real name) who served time for rape, was scheduled to be sent to a care home for seniors upon release from Yongchuan Prison in Chongqing in 2011. However, the care home was unwilling to accept the 79-year-old, who has heart disease. With no family to provide help, the center would have to foot the bill for his treatment, which it was reluctant to do.
Dislocation from mainstream society may lead ex-inmates to re-offend and wind up back in jail, according to experts.
The recent case of Hong Shui (not his real name) has reignited the debate about recidivism in China. In 2011, Hong was sentenced to 12 months in prison with probation of one year after attacking two people after a drinking binge. However, after his release, Hong re-offended by allowing his home to be used as a center for people taking illegal drugs.
Chinese Criminal Law, which came into force in 2011, has clear rules about repeat offenders, or recidivists. Briefly, Article 65 says that if a person commits a crime within five years of serving a jail term, they will face a heavier sentence.
As a repeat offender, Hong was given a heavier punishment than usual on Tuesday, when he was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
China has experienced a rapid increase in re-offending and in major crimes committed by ex-convicts, according to experts.
By the end of October, there were 1.67 million convicts undergoing community correction, 1 million of whom were later released. The rate of re-offending by those serving their sentences in the community has stood at around 0.2 percent in recent years, Zhao Dacheng, vice-minister of Justice, said at a media briefing in Beijing late last month.
Community correction allows prisoners early release from jail, but they are required to report to a center every day and undertake voluntary work in the community. Apart from that, they are effectively free to resume their former lives and work or study as they wish. The centers also provide classes in basic computing and other relevant subjects to give ex-prisoners a better start as they re-enter society.
To reduce the rate of re-offending even further, government departments and NGOs have made great efforts to provide former inmates with a basic living allowance and job opportunities.
Those efforts are backed up within the justice system, too. The prison management department of the southwestern municipality of Chongqing provides psychological counseling for convicts on the verge of release to prepare them for life on the outside.
The process has won the approval of many experts, including Ma Ai, a professor of criminal psychology at the China University of Political Science and Law. However, Ma expressed a degree of concern.
“Some ex-convicts are easily pro-
Many prisoners are treated with distain when they return home. The best way to alleviate this embarrassment is to get them a job … and ask them to keep away from their homes temporarily to avoid the stigma and rejection.” WANG JIE FOUNDER OF CHINA EX-CONVICTS AID