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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 8):

     Last year, the CSD faced various challenges and a heavy workload. Nevertheless, CSD colleagues are committed with dedication and professionalism to enhancing social inclusion and sustainable development of Hong Kong. We provide safe custody and appropriate rehabilitation programmes for persons in custody and help reduce re-offending after release. We also proactively collaborate with various stakeholders to promote community education for crime prevention purposes.

     Today, we are pleased to meet you all in Tai Lam and brief you on our work over the past year.

Profile of Persons in Custody

     In 2016, despite the continuous decline of the overall crime rate, the average daily penal population at correctional facilities was 8 546 persons, representing a slight increase of 1.6 per cent from 8 413 persons in 2015, and the average occupancy rate was 77 per cent. Among the penal population:

(i) 79 per cent were males and 21 per cent were females;
(ii) 80 per cent were sentenced persons and 20 per cent were remands; and
(iii) 93 per cent were aged 21 or above and 7 per cent were aged under 21.

     In 2016, there were 20 049 new admissions of sentenced persons or remands under the CSD, representing a slight increase of 2.9 per cent from 19 479 persons in 2015. Among them, 149 high security risk persons in custody were sentenced and newly admitted into our correctional facilities. The number was similar to that of the previous year (147 persons), though representing a substantial increase of 41 per cent as compared with 2014 (106 persons). Among them, 90 per cent had committed serious drug-related offences, and 34 per cent came from other countries. The total number of Category A persons in custody rose to 530 persons, representing an increase of 5.2 per cent as compared with the figure in 2015.

     As at December 31, 2016, more than 10 000 persons were under the management of the CSD, including 8 611 persons in custody and 1 806 supervisees under statutory supervision after release. In terms of the backgrounds of the 8 611 persons in custody, 69 per cent were local, 11 per cent were from the Mainland, Taiwan and Macau, and 20 per cent were from other countries. Over the past three years, the proportion of persons in custody from other countries continued to increase, rising from 15 per cent in 2014 to 18 per cent in 2015, and further to 20 per cent in 2016, amounting to more than 1 700 persons (i.e. 1 726 persons) from over 70 countries.

Safe Custody

     The CSD attaches great importance to the strict enforcement of discipline and order in correctional facilities with a view to providing a safe and secure custodial environment for protection of public safety and providing appropriate rehabilitation programmes for persons in custody. Although most of the persons in custody conform to order and discipline as well as show a sense of remorse, some remain resistant to change and breach discipline. These affect adversely the general norms of institutions and the safety of others.

     Recently, there were large-scale prison disturbances, riots or escape in some countries or places causing serious social impacts. Such incidents had greatly threatened public safety outside the walls. In Hong Kong, we have a professional team of correctional officers to prevent acts of indiscipline and violence. The CSD has adopted a "nip-in-the-bud" and "zero-tolerance" strategy. We strengthen intelligence collection and curb all acts of illicit activities at an early stage. We also step up searching operations so as to reduce contraband, such as home-made weapons, dangerous drugs, gambling tools and home-made wine.

     There has been no successful escape case for nine years in a row, from 2008 to 2016. Last year, although there were two attempted escape cases, they were stopped by correctional officers instantly. On the other hand, there has been an increase in acts of indiscipline in our institutions.

     Last year, the CSD conducted 7 377 joint searching/special searching/night raid operations in institutions, covering 11 051 locations.

     In respect of actions taken by the CSD against actions of illicit indiscipline in institutions:

(i) Last year, there were eight cases of concerted acts of indiscipline, an increase of two cases (33 per cent) over the year before. The causes included fighting and inciting other persons in custody to get involved in collective actions (such as refusing to proceed to other locations as required).

(ii) Last year, there were 4 104 disciplinary charges involving 2 658 persons in custody, an increase of 433 charges (12 per cent) compared with 3 671 charges in the year before. Among these, the number of disciplinary charges involving "possessing unauthorised articles" rose significantly by 251 charges (28 per cent), from 888 charges in 2015 to 1 139 charges in 2016, whereas for other disciplinary charges, there was an increase of 182 charges (7 per cent), from 2 783 charges in 2015 to 2 965 charges in 2016.

(iii) In terms of the number of persons in custody involved, a total of 2 348 persons in custody were subject to disciplinary action in 2015, representing an increase of 310 persons (13 per cent) as compared to 2 658 persons in 2016. Among them, 305 persons in custody (11 per cent) were subject to a total of 1 249 disciplinary charges (each of the persons in custody concerned having committed three or more disciplinary offences), accounting for 30 per cent of the total number of disciplinary charges.

(iv) As for acts of violence, a total of 527 cases which mainly involved fighting among persons in custody and assault (including correctional officers) were recorded last year, representing an increase of five cases (1 per cent) from 2015 (i.e. 522 cases). Among them, 39 cases (three cases more than the 36 cases in 2015, i.e. 8 per cent) were of a more serious nature and were reported to the Police for follow-up. The remaining cases were dealt with in accordance with internal disciplinary proceedings. The number of counts of correctional officers being injured while stopping violence or other behaviours was 73 in total. Last year, there were 18 cases involving correctional officers being assaulted during the course of their duty, representing an increase of three cases (20 per cent) from the number in 2015. However, the number of correctional officers injured on duty decreased from 29 persons to 21 persons (i.e. less by eight persons, i.e. 28 per cent). Most of the injuries were caused by fists and legs. Such a result reflects that our "nip-in-the-bud" strategy has prevented serious bodily harm and upheld a safe custodial environment.

     Apart from actions of illicit indiscipline, some persons in custody, just like people in the community, have engaged in self-harm behaviours for various reasons. In 2016, there were 79 self-harm cases involving persons in custody (an increase of seven cases (10 per cent) from 72 cases in 2015). The majority of these cases were discovered in time and the persons in custody concerned were rescued. Unfortunately, last year one person in custody died despite rescue efforts. The incident has been reported to the Police for subsequent Coroner's enquiry.

     Meanwhile, security risks have been on the rise in recent years. The CSD established three small-scale professionally trained Regional Response Teams (RRTs) as scheduled through redeployment of existing resources last September. The RRTs are stationed in Hong Kong Region, Kowloon Region and Lantau Island Region respectively. In addition to strengthening the escort of high security risk persons in custody and rendering prompt reinforcement in the event of emergencies, the RRTs also patrol the outer perimeters of correctional facilities in their respective Regions, and assist in carrying out other duties, such as providing tactical training for front-line officers and facilitating joint operation to combat illicit activities in institutions. The outcome has proved to be satisfactory.

     Our "nip-in-the-bud" strategy has been successful in cracking down on acts of indiscipline. The incident at Stanley Prison, a maximum security prison, on January 5 this year is a case in point. A total of 138 persons in custody staged a collective hunger strike and refused to return to their cells in a bid to coerce the management into releasing other persons in custody who had breached discipline. We deployed extra manpower including a newly established RRT to cope with the event. Within three hours we managed to end the incident swiftly in a resolute and peaceful manner, thus thwarting any deterioration and occurrence of unintended consequences.

     Apart from the issue of illicit indiscipline among persons in custody in the institutions, the numbers for medical escort and associated duties have remained high, causing tremendous pressure on security risks and human resources. The number of medical escort duties performed by correctional officers was approximately 39 000 days of work on average each year between 2013 and 2015, while the number rose to 40 898 days of work in 2016. The new RRTs help tackle medical escort workload involving the high security risk persons in custody.

     Furthermore, the CSD has put in place different measures to improve and replace some of the aged facilities. For example, the partial redevelopment project of Tai Lam Centre for Women was completed according to schedule at the end of last year and provides 128 additional penal places. It commenced operation in January this year to alleviate the overcrowding problem of high security risk female persons in custody and improve supporting facilities. A tour will be arranged for the media right after the press conference.

     In order to enhance security and efficiency, we have obtained funding approval of the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council to implement various projects to improve our facilities, including the installation of an electric locks security system in Stanley Prison, the upgrading of the existing closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems in Pak Sha Wan Correctional Institution and Siu Lam Psychiatric Centre with new digital systems, and the replacement of the core information technology systems with an Integrated Custodial and Rehabilitation Management System. We also have the replacement of the CCTV systems in Tai Lam, Tong Fuk and Tung Tau Correctional Institutions in the pipeline.

     To effectively prevent any illegal smuggling of dangerous drugs into institutions, the CSD added three low-radiation X-ray body scanners last year. Currently, a total of seven scanners have been installed in all our reception facilities to replace most manual rectal searches.

Rehabilitation Work

     All along, the CSD has been committed to fostering closer partnerships with different stakeholders in the community, including District Fight Crime Committees, charitable organisations, non-government organisations (NGOs), the business sector and universities. Through diversified programmes and activities, we seek to enhance community support for rehabilitation work and help persons in custody reintegrate into society after release.

     Programmes implemented last year included district-based publicity activities co-organised with the 18 District Fight Crime Committees, the Job Fair for Rehabilitated Offenders 2016 and the registration programme for Caring Employers co-organised with business associations, and the Thank You NGO Month. The CSD has also strengthened collaboration with academic institutions. Last year, we worked with three universities to respectively co-organise the "Unleashing Rehabilitated Offenders' Potential" Employment Symposium, "NGO Forum 2016 cum Outstanding NGO Volunteer Award Presentation Ceremony" and a conference entitled "Risk Management of Offenders: Converging Wisdom for a Safer Society" to facilitate research, discussion and experience sharing among Hong Kong, Macau and overseas professionals.

     The CSD proactively implements diversified and appropriate rehabilitation programmes, including counselling, education and market-oriented vocational training, to help persons in custody equip themselves with skills and build up self-confidence, so that they can reintegrate into society and start afresh after release.

     Twenty vocational training courses are provided for young persons in custody. More than 40 market-oriented courses, with a total of over 1 400 places, are available on a voluntary basis to adult persons in custody who are due for discharge within three to 24 months. Last year, new courses including Decorative Waterproof Worker Training for Renovation, Florist and Floriculture Assistant Training and Coffee House Operations were organised. This year, foundation certificate courses in plumber training for interior renovation and pet sitting will be introduced. Moreover, we encourage adult persons in custody to pursue further studies and assist young persons in custody in receiving education according to their progress and potential.

     In terms of outcomes, the overall passing rate of vocational training examinations was 98.9 per cent last year (99.6 per cent for adult persons in custody and 97.2 per cent for young persons in custody). Their employment rates after six months of employment follow-up period upon release were respectively 82.3 per cent and 90.2 per cent. On education, the overall passing rate in public examinations was 63.8 per cent last year (55.7 per cent for adult persons in custody and 76.4 per cent for young persons in custody). Among them, one person in custody attained Level 5* in the subject of economics under the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination. Another person in custody obtained 24 marks overall in six papers, and one person in custody was successfully admitted to a bachelor's degree programme. Moreover, three persons in custody and one person in custody were awarded bachelor's degrees and a master's degree respectively. One person in custody was even admitted to a doctor of education programme.

     Over the years, the CSD has long been promoting rehabilitation work and seeking public support for and acceptance of rehabilitated persons so as to reduce their re-offending risks, which, in effect, makes Hong Kong a safer society. Over the past 10 years, based on 2005 and 2014 as the respective years of discharge, Hong Kong's recidivism rate (Note 1) has decreased from 35.6 per cent to 25.9 per cent. The result is highly encouraging. In essence, it reflects the outcome jointly made through the hard work of correctional officers, the determination of persons in custody and rehabilitated persons to turn over a new leaf, and the growing support from stakeholders in the community. I would like to take this opportunity to extend my heartfelt appreciation to all stakeholders concerned and, of course, friends from the media for your solid support in promoting rehabilitation work and assisting rehabilitated persons to start afresh. Your efforts create positive values for a more inclusive society.

Community Education and Effectiveness in Crime Prevention

     On community education, the CSD makes use of its distinctive assets (i.e. the prison environment and the vivid reflection of persons in custody on their life experiences) to disseminate to students and young people the importance of leading a law-abiding and drug-free life as well as supporting rehabilitation through the Rehabilitation Pioneer Project (RPP), which amongst others, includes a programme named "The Reflective Path". Last year, 36 000 young participants took part in various activities. The RPP programmes were well received with positive responses. The first RPP Facebook Page was also launched in January 2016 to sustain closer connection with the participants.

     In late 2016, the CSD commissioned a university to conduct research to estimate the social costs saved through our rehabilitation work and community education in reducing re-offending and preventing crime. The research will be conducive to quantifying the effectiveness of the correctional services provided by the CSD and the contributions towards sustainable development of society. The findings will be released later this year.

Human Resources

     The CSD is still undergoing a peak period of staff wastage and the phenomenon will last for another few years. In 2016-17, we have recruited 57 Officers and 257 Assistant Officers II. We expect to recruit at least 50 Officers and 300 Assistant Officers II in 2017-18. In respect of staff quarters, we have obtained funding approval from the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council to implement a 70-unit project at Tin Wan, Aberdeen, which is expected to complete by 2019.

     In recent years, in collaboration with community stakeholders, the CSD has been promoting law-abiding and solid inclusiveness through community education with a view to contributing to the overall development of Hong Kong. This new approach is widely supported by correctional officers. Last year, the CSD revised the "Vision, Mission and Values" (VMV) statement following a department-wide consultation. Under the revised mission to "protect the public and prevent crime", apart from the basic provision of "custodial environment" and "rehabilitation programmes", the new element of "community education for crime prevention" is also incorporated into the statement to truly reflect our work. The revised VMV statement came into effect on February 1 this year.

35th Anniversary of Renaming Prisons Department as Correctional Services Department

     The year 2017 marks not only the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, but also the 35th anniversary of renaming the Prisons Department as the Correctional Services Department. The renaming signifies the change of the CSD's mission from merely performing a custodial role to placing dual emphasis on both safe custody and rehabilitation. During the first 15 years, the CSD took up an important task, in addition to its own duties, of managing tens of thousands of Vietnamese boat people. It was not until the establishment of the Rehabilitation Division in early 1998 and the closure of High Island Detention Centre, the last Vietnamese refugee centre under the management of the CSD, in late May of the same year that we were able to implement rehabilitation policies in full swing. Over the past 20 years, with the support of various sectors of the community, we have managed to achieve the present results in rehabilitation.

     This year, we will organise a wide range of celebration activities to mark the milestone for both the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the CSD. These activities will showcase the development of correctional work and its contributions to an inclusive and sustainable society. Apart from regular rehabilitation promotion activities, new scheduled activities will include, inter alia, the Open Day of the Staff Training Institute and lantern-making as intangible cultural heritage of Hong Kong together with strategic community partners. We will also hold a conference in collaboration with a local university in July. Relevant local and Mainland/overseas organisations will be invited to discuss the role of correctional work in the sustainable development of societies. We are also working on a social enterprise partnership project to create opportunities for the disadvantaged through closer collaboration among the public, the business sector and the Government with a view to enhancing positive energy in the society.

Conclusion

     Having looked back on 2016, while facing an increasingly complicated custodial environment and rising public expectations, correctional officers will continue to spare no effort in fulfilling our dual roles as society's guardian and rehabilitation facilitator with professionalism and perseverance. We will discharge our duties faithfully as the gatekeeper of the criminal justice system. I firmly believe that our colleagues will continue to deliver their utmost to rise to challenges and contribute to building a better Hong Kong.

     Last but not least, we are thankful for the support of the public and various stakeholders of the community, which has been crucial to our work throughout the years. I would also like to express my heartfelt gratitude to my team members for their continued support for the department over the years. Thank you.

Note 1: The percentage of re-admission of local persons in custody to correctional institutions following conviction of a new offence within two years after discharge.

Ends/Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Issued at HKT 13:20