Following is the translation of the speech given by the Commissioner of Correctional Services, Mr Sin Yat-kin, at the department's annual press conference today (March 19):
In the past year, the staff of the Correctional Services Department (CSD) continued to make tireless efforts to enhance the operational efficiency of correctional institutions, upgrade obsolete facilities and fully utilise resources with a view to providing a secure and healthy custodial environment for persons in custody and helping them to turn over a new leaf.
Profile of Persons in Custody and Development of Correctional Facilities
In 2013, the average daily penal population was 9 206, representing a slight decrease of 0.4 per cent from the figure of 9 247 in 2012, and the average occupancy rate was about 80 per cent. Among the penal population, 81 per cent were males and 19 per cent were females; 83 per cent were convicted offenders and 17 per cent were remands; 10 per cent were aged under 21, 86 per cent were aged from 21 to under 60 and 4 per cent were aged 60 or above. These percentages were similar to those of the previous year. In terms of the backgrounds of the penal population, 73.6 per cent of persons in custody were local, 12.8 per cent were from the Mainland, Taiwan and Macau, and 13.6 per cent were from other countries as at the end of 2013.
Although there was only a slight decrease in the average daily penal population for the whole year, we witnessed a decline in the number of persons in custody in the second half of 2013. At the end of 2012, the penal population was 9 297, but it dropped to 9 093 at the end of last year, representing a decrease of 2.8 per cent.
Last year, 112 high security risk persons in custody were newly admitted into our penal institutions. Among them, 86.6 per cent had committed serious drug-related offences and 54 per cent came from other countries. According to the statistics of the past few years, the number of cases in which offenders had committed serious crimes and were sentenced to long imprisonment has remained on the high side, and a substantial proportion of the cases were drug-related offences and involved criminals from other countries.
In recent years, the penal population has remained steady, thereby facilitating smooth operation of our penal institutions. However, among our 29 correctional facilities, some of them were converted from buildings that were not purpose-built as prisons. At present, 10 of them have been in operation for over 40 years and the number will increase to 15 in 2019.
We are proactively implementing redevelopment and improvement works to ensure that the correctional facilities can meet modern-day needs. For example, the partial redevelopment project currently under way at Tai Lam Centre for Women will not only provide 108 additional penal places upon completion, but also enhance existing facilities including those catering for high security risk female persons in custody. The project is scheduled for completion in 2016.
Acts of Violence and Indiscipline in Prisons and Self-harm Behaviour of Persons in Custody
The CSD places dual emphasis on custodial and rehabilitative services. Discipline and order are of paramount importance to correctional institutions, enabling persons in custody to have a regular living pattern with an organised schedule for work and rest in a secure custodial environment. It allows them to reflect deeply, strengthen their determination to start afresh and plan how to fully utilise their time while serving a sentence, so that they can better equip themselves for reintegration into society upon discharge and turn over a new leaf. In fact, most of the persons in custody are obedient and determined to rehabilitate. However, some individuals tend to get involved in misconduct from time to time, thus affecting prison discipline and the safety of others. We will certainly spare no efforts to combat and contain these acts of indiscipline.
In 2013, there were 3 261 disciplinary cases in penal institutions with 2 157 persons in custody violating prison discipline. Among them, 210 breached discipline three times or more while the number of persons in custody being disciplined for being involved in gambling activities was 132. There were 477 cases of acts of violence in penal institutions last year, and these mainly involved fighting among persons in custody and assaults. There were 48 cases of a more serious nature and they were reported to the Police for follow-up in accordance with the criminal procedures. Among them, 23 cases involved correctional officers being assaulted during their course of duty and most of them sustained slight injury. There was no case of escape in the year.
As with people in the community, some persons in custody have self-harm behaviour for various reasons. In 2013, there were 81 cases of persons in custody having self-harm behaviour. A great majority of these cases were discovered in time and the persons in custody were rescued by correctional officers. Unfortunately, one person in custody died despite the rescue efforts.
To strengthen the security of penal institutions and prevent the smuggling of drugs by concealment inside the body, the first low-radiation X-ray body scanner was put into full use in Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre in early 2013 to replace the previous practice of manual rectal searches.
After the new equipment was put into operation, the number of seizures of dangerous drugs in penal institutions was 95 last year, representing a significant decrease of 40 per cent when compared to the 158 seizures in the previous year. The types of dangerous drugs seized were mainly heroin and psychotropic drugs, and most of those involved were persons who had just been placed under our custody. Apart from a few cases in which dangerous drugs were found in mail sent to prisons and articles brought in by visitors, other seizures all occurred in the cell holding units of the courts and the reception centres. Among them, there were 67 cases of drugs being concealed inside the body, representing a significant decrease of 41 per cent over the previous year's figure, and most of them were detected by the X-ray body scanner. As the X-ray body scanner has proved to be highly effective and also achieved a deterrent effect, the CSD has planned to install this security equipment in three institutions, namely Tai Lam Centre for Women, Lo Wu Correctional Institution (LWCI) and Pik Uk Correctional Institution.
Furthermore, in the past year, the department has introduced a Human Presence Detection System and a closed circuit television system equipped with a Video Analytical Function into penal institutions in order to strengthen security facilities for the prevention of any escape from prison and to assist the correctional officers in executing their duties more effectively. The department will continue to review the effectiveness of the systems and explore the feasibility of installing them in other institutions in phases.
Rehabilitation of Persons in Custody
As regards the promotion of rehabilitation work, the department has all along been working closely with some 80 non-government organisations (NGOs). In line with the theme of our rehabilitation service, we call upon the community to "Give Rehabilitated Offenders a Chance". We will continue to implement diversified and appropriate rehabilitation initiatives, as well as provide comprehensive supervision services to help offenders turn over a new leaf and reintegrate into society.
According to the Laws of Hong Kong, most of the young persons in custody are required to receive education and vocational training and, for adult persons in custody, to engage in useful work. With the active encouragement of correctional officers, over 900 adult persons in custody enrolled in part-time academic courses last year and some of them have even acquired bachelor's degrees.
In respect of vocational training, having regard to the needs of the market, we keep working with various training bodies in providing more than 30 market-oriented vocational training courses to persons in custody who will be released in three to 24 months. These courses cover the construction, technical, business, food and beverage, retailing, tourism, beauty care, logistics, information technology and environmental service sectors.
Last year, some 1 000 adult persons in custody enrolled in these courses on a voluntary basis. The department has co-operated with the Construction Industry Council to introduce new vocational courses, namely the Bar-bending and Fixing Skill Course and the Timber Formwork Skill Course. We have also worked with the Vocational Training Council to provide courses on Travel Agent Assistant Training and Hong Kong Style Caf Operation.
This year, we will continue to provide more vocational training courses on trades with heavy market demand, such as Professional Taxi Driver Training (Taxi Written Test), Metalwork and Welding Craft Training, the Computer Aided Drafting Course, and Computer Multi-media Productions and Programming Training. This training will help persons in custody equip themselves with vocational skills, thereby facilitating their smooth reintegration into society upon release.
Last December, the CSD held the first thank-you day to let persons in custody express their gratitude towards personnel and volunteers of NGOs that have been co-operating with the department for a long time. Different thank-you activities on this theme were held in all penal facilities on the same day. Through these activities, persons in custody were able to express their gratitude from the bottom of their hearts.
To encourage persons in custody to care about the community, the CSD implements environmentally friendly initiatives in penal institutions. Since it was found that female persons in custody generally would not consume all the food in their meals, the department introduced the "Waste No Food Scheme" at LWCI in early 2013 and called for their participation. The portions of staple food for the voluntary participants, which included rice, chapatti and potatoes, was reduced according to their personal need in order to reduce leftovers. Since the implementation of the Scheme, the response has been very encouraging. The participation rate has increased from 50 per cent at the start to 80 per cent lately, which is equivalent to about 950 persons. In the first 11 months after launching the Scheme, LWCI achieved a cumulative saving of about 16 000 kilograms of rice, 460kg of potatoes and 90kg of wheat flour. Taking rice for example, the saving is equivalent to 3 200 family-size packs of rice weighing 5kg each.
Moreover, LWCI has installed a food waste decomposing machine which can convert 100kg of food waste into organic fertiliser every day. The organic fertiliser is used for growing plants in the vicinity of LWCI for greening purposes. In view of the favourable response to the Scheme, the CSD has already extended the Scheme to Ma Hang Prison and Nei Kwu Correctional Institution.
The department is still facing a peak period of staff retirement. In 2013-14, we recruited a total of 35 Officers and 181 Assistant Officers II. In the coming year, we will recruit at least 50 Officers and 240 Assistant Officers II. A number of non-Chinese citizens of Hong Kong applied for the posts last year and, for the first time since Hong Kong's reunification, five of them were appointed. As persons in custody in correctional institutions are of different nationalities, it will certainly assist our work if we have some staff who have knowledge of their languages and cultures. Non-Chinese citizens who are interested in correctional work are most welcome to apply for the posts.
Although the penal population is on the decrease, the number of cases in which persons in custody have received medical treatment at Accident and Emergency Departments due to acute illness or accidental injuries, admission to hospital due to illness or regular specialist treatment in outside clinics and thus required medical escorts have increased rather than dropped in recent years. These medical escort duties involved about 36 000 days of work in 2012, and the number increased to about 39 700 days in 2013, representing an increase of 10 per cent. It has put tremendous pressure on our human resources.
Our slogan says it all: "We Care". The CSD not only manages persons in custody with humanity and care, but also values and cares about its staff, who are regarded as the most important asset of the department. Therefore, the CSD has all along allocated resources to enhance the qualities and virtues of its staff in various aspects, particularly integrity. We have also proactively encouraged our staff to adopt a balanced and healthy lifestyle, elevate the professionalism and excellence of our services, and continue to further foster the culture of integrity and probity in the department.
Community Education and Crime Prevention
To promote anti-crime awareness, enhance understanding of the detrimental effects of drugs and disseminate the message of supporting offender rehabilitation among young people, the department has already implemented the Rehabilitation Pioneer Project for five years. The new elements of organising a drama and music performance of "Creation and Rehabilitation" were introduced recently. Last year and for the first time, some 300 secondary school students were invited to attend the drama performance inside a maximum security prison. The drama was created, directed and performed by persons in custody who have committed serious crimes, with the messages of fighting crime and offender rehabilitation.
After the performance, the persons in custody also had discussions with the students and shared experience on the serious consequences of committing crimes. The expected results were achieved judging from the positive feedback from the participating students. This year, we will continue to enhance the project and organise activities related to moral and civic education for the young generation.
The department went through a busy year in 2013. 2014 will undoubtedly be another year full of challenges. In the coming year, my colleagues and I will continue to do our utmost to serve the community with dedication and commitment for the stability of Hong Kong.
Ends/Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Issued at HKT 17:30