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Speech by Commissioner of Correctional Services at annual press conference

     Following is the translation of the speech given by the Commissioner of Correctional Services, Mr Yau Chi-chiu, at the Correctional Services Department (CSD) annual press conference today (February 16):

     In the past year, the staff of the CSD continued their relentless efforts to protect the public safety and reduce crime by providing a secure and healthy custodial environment for persons in custody, as well as helping them to turn over a new leaf through various rehabilitation programmes. The CSD also collaborated with different stakeholders to enhance community education and publicity to support rehabilitated persons.

     Profile of Persons in Custody

     In 2014, the average daily penal population at correctional facilities was 8 797 persons, representing a decrease of 4.4 per cent from 9 206 persons in 2013, and the average occupancy rate was about 76.6 per cent. Among the penal population, 80.8 per cent were males and 19.2 per cent were females; 82.3 per cent were convicted offenders and 17.7 per cent were remands; 9.2 per cent were aged under 21 and 90.8 per cent were aged 21 or above. In terms of the backgrounds of the penal population as at the end of 2014, 72.5 per cent of persons in custody were local, 12.2 per cent were from the Mainland, Taiwan and Macau, and 15.3 per cent were from other countries. The above percentages were similar to those of the previous year.

     Last year, 106 high security risk persons in custody were newly admitted into our correctional facilities. Among them, 81.1 per cent had committed serious drug-related offences and 32.1 per cent came from other countries. Again, the percentages were similar to those in the past few years.

     Reflecting the ageing population in Hong Kong, the penal population has also witnessed a growing number of persons in custody aged 65 or above over the past decade. In 2014, a total of 340 persons aged 65 or above were sentenced and admitted into correctional facilities, representing an increase of 81.8 per cent from the figure of 187 persons in 2005. According to the latest projection on the daily average penal population, the proportion of persons in custody aged 65 or above will rise from approximately 2 per cent in 2015 (around 170 persons) to approximately 5 per cent in 2023 (around 410 persons). In order to provide suitable custodial and rehabilitation arrangements for elderly persons in custody (most being accommodated at Ma Hang Prison) and to better utilise correctional facilities, the CSD initiated a facility improvement project in Tai Lam Correctional Institution in mid-2013. Following completion of the project in late 2014, all elderly persons in custody at Ma Hang Prison were relocated to Tai Lam Correctional Institution in late January.

     Safe Custody

     The strict enforcement of discipline and order in correctional facilities provides persons in custody with a secure custodial environment with regular schedules for work and rest, allowing them to reflect on their wrongdoing and take part in rehabilitation programmes without worry. Although most of the persons in custody are obedient and remorseful, some individuals tend to get involved in misconduct from time to time, thus affecting prison discipline and the safety of others.

     In 2014, there were 3 592 cases of persons in custody violating prison discipline, representing an increase of 10 per cent from the previous year. There were 567 cases of acts of violence in 2014 which mainly involved fighting among persons in custody and assaults, representing an increase of 18.9 per cent from the previous year. Among the 39 more serious cases which were reported to the Police for follow-up (nine cases less than the previous year), 16 cases (seven cases less than the previous year) involved correctional officers being assaulted during their course of duty. All the other cases were dealt with through internal disciplinary proceedings and most of the persons involved only sustained slight injury. The increase in disciplinary and acts of violence cases precisely reflects the challenges and pressure encountered by correctional officers. Without the early detection and intervention of staff and imposition of appropriate punishment on those persons in custody involved in disciplinary offences and acts of violence, the situation could have easily deteriorated. This will certainly have serious implications on the order and operation of correctional facilities and even the safety of the stakeholders concerned. Therefore, we must enforce the law strictly to combat and contain such acts of indiscipline.

     There was no case of escape in the year. However, two persons in custody attempted to escape while attending follow-up consultation at outside public hospitals and they were immediately subdued by the escorting staff. As with people in the community, some persons in custody have self-harm behaviour for various reasons. In 2014, there were 68 self-harm cases involving persons in custody. A great majority of these cases were discovered in time and the persons in custody concerned were rescued by correctional officers. Unfortunately, one person in custody died despite the rescue efforts.

     To strengthen the security of correctional facilities and prevent the introduction of dangerous drugs by concealment inside the human body, the first low-radiation X-ray body scanner was introduced in Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre in 2013. Another three scanners were installed and used in Pik Uk Correctional Institution, Lo Wu Correctional Institution and Tai Lam Centre for Women in 2014. After the introduction of X-ray body scanners, the number of cases of dangerous drugs being found dropped by 13.6 per cent, from 59 cases in 2013 to 51 cases in 2014. The dangerous drugs seized were mainly heroin and psychotropic drugs, and most of those involved were persons who had just been placed under our custody. The numbers of cases involving dangerous drugs being concealed inside the human body were 33 and 32 respectively in 2013 and 2014. In the coming year, more X-ray body scanners will be installed at Lai King Correctional Institution, Siu Lam Psychiatric Centre and Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre so that most manual rectal searches will be replaced by use of scanners at all reception centres. Between now and 2019, we will also overhaul the closed-circuit television system at Stanley Prison with a new digital system.

     Rehabilitation Work

     The department continues to provide opportunities and assistance to persons in custody by equipping them with useful job and life skills, providing education as well as building up their self-confidence, thereby helping them to start a new life upon release. In addition, we have been working closely with some 80 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to implement diversified and appropriate rehabilitation programmes and initiatives to assist persons in custody in turning over a new leaf.

     Education programmes of different levels are arranged for young persons in custody according to their progress and potential. In 2014, 15 young persons in custody sat for a total of 82 examination papers in the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination and they obtained results at Level 2 or above in 81 papers. Two of them actually met the general entrance requirements of local universities, whereas seven of them subsequently enrolled in tertiary education programmes. Meanwhile, we also provide guidance and assistance to adult persons in custody who are willing to pursue studies. With the active encouragement of correctional officers, more than 500 of them completed part-time academic courses in 2014. One of the adult persons in custody was awarded a Bachelor of Business Administration, while another was granted both a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Education.

     In respect of vocational training, 16 training courses are provided to young persons in custody and 38 market-oriented vocational training courses are available for adult persons in custody who are due for discharge within three to 24 months. The Bar-bending and Fixing Skill Course, the Timber Formwork Skill Course, Travel Agent Assistant Course, Professional Taxi Driver Training (Taxi Written Test) and Care Worker Training have been newly added in recent years. Last year, some 1 400 adult persons in custody voluntarily enrolled in vocational training courses covering a wide spectrum of trades. Building on the momentum, we will continue to work with various professional bodies and training institutions to introduce new vocational training courses on trades with heavy market demand this year. Apart from implementing the Recognition of Prior Learning on Printing under the Qualifications Framework, we will also introduce the Sewing Skill Recognition Scheme accredited by the Clothing Industry Training Authority to assist persons in custody assigned to relevant work posts in obtaining recognition for their skill levels.

     The CSD also encourages employers to register as "Caring Employers" and offer job opportunities to rehabilitated persons. Another Employment Symposium was successfully held with the Centre for Criminology of the University of Hong Kong in June 2014. The first-ever video conferencing job fair was also jointly organised with the Chinese Manufacturers' Association of Hong Kong and Merchants Support for Rehabilitated Offenders Committee Limited in September 2014. The job fair provided opportunities for persons in custody who would be released within a short time to have real-time interviews with potential employers by using video conferencing technology. More than 70 business organisations from 17 trades participated in the event.

     Over the years, we have been reaching out to the community to promote rehabilitation work and seek public support for and acceptance of rehabilitated persons. In 2014, the CSD held various ongoing publicity initiatives including district-based publicity activities co-organised with the 18 District Fight Crime Committees, Thank You NGO Week, the NGO Forum, and the Award Presentation Ceremony for Volunteers of CSD Rehabilitation Volunteer Group. The highlight community promotion event in 2014, the TV Variety Show on "Support Offender Rehabilitation for a Safer and More Inclusive Society", was broadcast in November.

     Community Education and Crime Prevention

     On community education, the CSD will focus on disseminating to students and young people the important messages of leading a law-abiding and drug-free life as well as supporting offender rehabilitation under the Rehabilitation Pioneer Project (RPP). Last year, more than 25 000 students participated in various activities under the Project. The department will continue to keep the RPP under review and strive for its enhancement to suit the participants' interests and needs. For instance, a new format of "Forum Theatre" was adopted for the first time in the three Student Forums held in 2014. It featured a drama performance by a local professional repertory theatre company to enhance interactive sharing and reflective thinking among the student participants. The results were very positive.

     To encourage persons in custody to care about the community and promote environmental protection through cherishing food and reducing waste, the "Waste No Food" Scheme has been introduced at Lo Wu Correctional Institution, Tai Lam Centre for Women, Nei Kwu Correctional Institution and the Elderly Unit of Tai Lam Correctional Institution for their voluntary participation. In addition to the one installed at Lo Wu Correctional Institution, a food waste decomposing machine was installed at Stanley Prison recently to convert food waste into organic fertiliser.

     The CSD actively supports the government policies, including the implementation of various anti-smoking measures in correctional facilities having regard to the health of persons in custody. On January 1, 2013, the CSD designated Tung Tau Correctional Institution as the first "No Smoking Correctional Facility" to accommodate adult male non-smoking first-time offenders. With the relentless efforts of our colleagues in promoting various anti-smoking measures including education, publicity, counselling and organising smoking cessation courses, Pak Sha Wan Correctional Institution was subsequently designated as the second "No Smoking Correctional Facility" on December 1, 2014, to house adult male non-smoking recidivists.

Human Resources

     The department is undergoing a peak period of staff wastage and the phenomenon will continue for a few years. In 2014-15, we recruited 76 Officers and 283 Assistant Officers II. In the coming year, we will recruit at least 50 Officers and 240 Assistant Officers II.

     Although the penal population is decreasing, the number of cases involving 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 by persons in custody has remained high in recent years. The growing number of medical escort duties by CSD staff, roughly from 36 000 days of work in 2012 to 39 700 days in 2013 and then to 40 100 days in 2014, has put tremendous pressure on our human resources.

Others

     Since quite a number of our correctional facilities have been in use for many years and some were originally not purpose-built as prisons, we keep on implementing redevelopment and improvement works to ensure that they can meet modern-day needs. An example is the partial redevelopment project for Tai Lam Centre for Women, which is targeted for completion by the end of 2016.

     A new information technology initiative of the CSD is the introduction of the departmental Mobile App today. With a view to enhancing the communication between the department and the general public, the new Mobile App provides easy and instant access to important and updated information of the CSD anytime and anywhere. Such information includes the location of and recommended public transport access to every correctional facility, job vacancies of the CSD and, for registered visitors, the assigned institution of an individual person in custody and whether a visit can be made.

Conclusion

     2014 has been a busy year for the CSD and 2015 will undoubtedly be another challenging one. Our whole team will continue our utmost efforts to serve the community with dedication and commitment for the stability of Hong Kong.

Ends/Monday, February 16, 2015
Issued at HKT 13:02

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