Yin Wang­shu

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FOCUS -

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 re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion

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

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