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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 Lam Kwok-leung, at the Correctional Services Department (CSD)'s annual press conference today (February 27):

     Thank you for attending the annual press conference of the Correctional Services Department (CSD). Today is the 12th day of the Chinese New Year. On behalf of all colleagues, I wish you all happiness and prosperity. Here at the Staff Training Institute of the CSD, we are going to sum up our work in 2017, as well as presenting virtual reality scenario training and trained canines - Kunming dogs.

Role of the CSD

     The CSD plays an important role in the Hong Kong criminal justice system. We uphold the mission to protect public safety and prevent crime for a better Hong Kong. Last year, we celebrated the 35th anniversary of renaming the Prisons Department as the Correctional Services Department. The renaming signified the change of our mission from merely performing a custodial role to placing dual emphasis on both safe custody and appropriate rehabilitation.

     In 2017, while the CSD faced various challenges, in pursuance of the responsibilities and powers vested by law, correctional officers are committed to ensuring a secure, safe, humane, decent and healthy custodial environment at all times. Moreover, the CSD, in collaboration with various community stakeholders, create rehabilitation opportunities to enable persons in custody to re-integrate into society upon release. Furthermore, we have been promoting law-abiding and inclusive values through community education with a view to preventing crime and contributing more to society.

Profile of Persons in Custody

     Last year, the average daily penal population at correctional facilities was 8 529 persons, which is similar to the figure (8 546 persons) in 2016. The average occupancy rate was 75 per cent. Among the penal population 80 per cent were males and 20 per cent were females, 80 per cent were sentenced persons and 20 per cent were remands, 95 per cent were aged 21 or above and 5 per cent were aged under 21, and 3 per cent were aged 65 or above.

     In 2017, there were 18 531 new admissions of sentenced persons or remands under the CSD, representing a decrease of 8 per cent from 20 049 admissions in 2016. Among the 11 243 new admissions of sentenced persons, 854 were sentenced to imprisonment for three years or more, and 239 were granted sentences of 10 years or more, or of even indeterminate sentence. A total of 150 Category A persons in custody with high security risk were newly admitted into our correctional facilities. Among these persons in custody, 93 per cent had committed drug-related offences, and 33 per cent came from other countries. As at the end of 2017, the total number of Category A persons in custody rose to 535 persons.

     As at December 31, 2017, more than 10 000 persons were under the management of the CSD, including 8 423 persons in custody and 1 723 supervisees under statutory supervision after release. In terms of the backgrounds of the 8 423 persons in custody, 67 per cent were local, 12 per cent were from the Mainland, Taiwan and Macau, and 21 per cent were from other countries. Over the past five years, the proportion of persons in custody from other countries continued to increase, rising from 14 per cent in 2013 to 21 per cent in 2017.

Safe Custody

     It is our duty to provide a safe and secure custodial environment and to help persons in custody rehabilitate and re-integrate into society. Although most of the persons in custody conform to order and discipline and show a sense of remorse, some commit acts of indiscipline. These adversely affect the order of institutions and the safety of others.

     In recent years, there were large-scale prison riots or escapes in some countries or places in the world, causing deaths and injuries and severely threatening public safety. To prevent such occurrences, we review and strengthen preventive measures, contingency plans and staff equipment from time to time so as to curb all illicit activities.

     There has been no successful escape case in Hong Kong for 10 years in a row, from 2008 to 2017. Last year, although there was one attempt, it was stopped by correctional officers instantly.

     On the other hand, acts of indiscipline in correctional institutions continued to rise, particularly among persons in custody with a history of drug abuse. We will take all feasible measures to crack down on all illicit activities in institutions.

     In 2017, the CSD conducted 7 692 joint search/special search/night raid operations in institutions, covering 11 911 locations.

     In 2017, there were five cases of concerted acts of indiscipline, a decrease of three cases over the year before. These included fighting and inciting other persons in custody to get involved in collective actions, such as refusing to eat or preventing correctional officers from entering the dormitory to enforce the law. Out of these five cases, three resulted in 13 persons in custody being injured, while three cases were referred to other law enforcement agencies for follow-up and investigation. We notice that of the 176 participants in the five incidents, 87 per cent (154 participants) were 21 years old or above, and 13 per cent (22 participants) were 20 years old or younger. All the five incidents saw the participation of persons in custody with a triad background, accounting for roughly 78 per cent of participants. We will spare no effort in combating such violations of law and discipline and safeguarding a secure and safe custodial environment.

     In the same year, there were 4 521 disciplinary charges against persons in custody, an increase of 417 charges (10 per cent) compared with 4 104 charges in 2016. Charges of "disobeying the orders of correctional officers" saw a marked increase of 145 charges (29 per cent), from 495 charges in 2016 to 640 charges in 2017; and charges of "possession of any unauthorised article" still remained high at 1 122 charges in 2017, similar to the 1 139 charges in 2016.

     There was an increase in the number of persons in custody who committed disciplinary offences repeatedly in 2017 compared with the year before. Among the 2 768 persons in custody subject to disciplinary charges in the year, 385 (14 per cent) committed three or more disciplinary offences, accounting for 36 per cent of the total number of disciplinary charges. The majority of the offences were "disobeying the orders of correctional officers" and other minor offences, reflecting the difficulties faced by correctional officers in routine law enforcement duties.

     As for cases involving violence, a total of 546 cases were recorded in 2017, mainly involved fighting among persons in custody and assaulting others including correctional officers. It represented an increase of 19 cases (4 per cent) from 2016 (i.e. 527 cases). Among these cases, 36 cases were of a more serious nature and were reported to the Police for follow-up. The number was three cases less than the 39 cases in 2016, i.e. 8 per cent. The remaining cases were handled in accordance with internal disciplinary proceedings. The number of correctional officers being injured while stopping violence or other behaviour was 23 in total.

     In 2017 there were 8 cases involving correctional officers being assaulted in the course of duty, representing a decrease of 10 cases from the number in 2016. The respective number of correctional officers injured on duty also decreased from 21 persons to 6 persons, i.e. 15 persons less (71 per cent). Most of these injuries were relatively minor.

     With X-ray body scanners as well as a monitoring system and intelligence network, we have effectively stopped the smuggling of drugs into correctional institutions. In 2017, there were 30 cases of seized drugs, representing a 25 per cent decrease from 40 cases in 2016. Among these 30 cases, 19 cases involved body-cavity concealment of drugs. There were also nine cases of suspected drugs found in letters sent to persons in custody, representing a 125 per cent increase from four cases in 2016. The majority of the seized drugs were heroin and other psychotropic drugs. We will step up our efforts in drug interception work.

     Apart from combating illicit activities, correctional officers have to stay vigilant at all times to stop persons in custody from harming themselves. In 2017, there were 99 self-harm cases (an increase of 20 cases (25 per cent) from 79 cases in 2016). The majority of these cases were discovered in time and the persons in custody concerned were successfully rescued. Unfortunately, three persons in custody died last year despite our tireless efforts. The incidents were reported to the Police for investigation and subsequent death inquest.

     Having regard to the potential risk of terrorism at correctional institutions, the CSD will establish a dedicated task force to step up counter-terrorism efforts through sharing of intelligence with the Hong Kong Police Force and other law enforcement agencies, as well as bolstering our capabilities to collect and analyse related intelligence.

     Over the years, the numbers relating to medical escort duties have remained high, causing tremendous pressure on security risks and human resources. Manpower deployed for medical escort duties amounted to approximately 39 000 man-days on average each year between 2014 and 2016, while the number rose to 41 091 man-days in 2017.

     The CSD has all along explored with relevant organisations various proposals to reduce the inconvenience caused to the public when persons in custody attend medical appointments at outside hospitals. For example, as early as June 2014, the CSD conducted a research study with Castle Peak Hospital, which is under the Hospital Authority. The psychiatrists at Castle Peak Hospital used video conferencing systems to provide a medical consultation service for persons in custody inside correctional institutions. The persons in custody concerned were under stable conditions and participation in the study was voluntary. The scheme helped protect their privacy and reduce the security risks associated with entering and leaving correctional institutions, as well as minimising the inconvenience caused to the public.

     The first phase of the study was concluded in May 2016 with promising results. A total of 172 psychiatric telemedicine consultations were provided to 86 persons in custody. The study has been extended for two years to collect more data to provide the basis for full implementation in the future. In April 2017, the collaboration scheme was extended to West Kowloon Psychiatric Centre. Following Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre, telemedicine consultation facilities have also been installed at Tai Lam Centre for Women, Lo Wu Correctional Institution and Hei Ling Chau Addiction Treatment Centre. As at the end of 2017, 371 psychiatric telemedicine consultations had been provided to a total of 192 persons in custody inside correctional institutions. The CSD is also actively exploring the possibility of providing dermatological telemedicine consultations with the Social Hygiene Service under the Department of Health. High resolution digital photos of the infected areas of the persons in custody concerned will be transmitted to the dermatologists for consultation.

     In addition, the CSD has proactively improved and upgraded some aging systems. Projects which have obtained funding approval from the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council include the installation of an electric locks security system in Stanley Prison, as well as the replacement and enhancement of the closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems with new digital systems with a net increase of some 3 400 cameras in six institutions (including Stanley Prison, Pak Sha Wan Correctional Institution, Siu Lam Psychiatric Centre, Tung Tau Correctional Institution, Tong Fuk Correctional Institution and Tai Lam Correctional Institution). The Integrated Custodial and Rehabilitation Management System for replacing the core information technology systems is undergoing a tender assessment process. The new system is scheduled to come into operation in 2022.

     We also plan to construct the Correctional Services Department Headquarters Building at Shing Tai Road, Chai Wan. The offices and other facilities in different districts will be relocated to the same building for better co-ordination and operational efficiency. This project obtained the support of the Planning, Works and Housing Committee under the Eastern District Council in December 2017. The CSD will follow up with the Architectural Services Department and seek funding approval at an appropriate time.

Rehabilitation Work

     This year marks a milestone as it is the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Rehabilitation Division. The CSD has been fostering closer partnerships with different community stakeholders, including 18 District Fight Crime Committees, charitable organisations, non-government organisations (NGOs), the business sector and universities. Through diverse programmes and activities, we seek to enhance various sectors' support for rehabilitation work and help persons in custody re-integrate into society after release.

     Programmes implemented last year included district-based publicity activities co-organised with the District Fight Crime Committees, the registration programme for Caring Employers, and the Thank You NGO Month. The CSD has also strengthened collaboration with academic institutions. Last year, we co-organised the NGO Forum 2017 cum Outstanding NGO Volunteer Award Presentation Ceremony with a local university and organised a thematic conference entitled "Conference 2017 - Evolution of Corrections" to facilitate research and discussion among Hong Kong, Macao, the Mainland and overseas professionals to explore future development.

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

     The CSD arranges convicted adult persons in custody to engage in work according to statutory provisions. The introduction of computerised production facilities, such as graphic design software, digital cutting machines and international standard testing equipment, not only boosts productivity, but also enables them to acquire up-to-date skills and common knowledge, such as regulations on quality management and occupational safety and health. Such skills and knowledge will enhance their employability in different sectors in future to facilitate re-integration into society.

     Last year, new courses such as the Foundation Certificate in Plumber Training for Interior Renovation and Foundation Certificate in Pet Sitting were organised. This year, we will introduce new foundation certificate courses in Floor Laying for Interior Renovation and AutoCAD in Renovation Drawings. All these courses are organised by various local training bodies, and have attained the Qualifications Framework level, or are accredited by professional bodies, thus enabling rehabilitated persons to work or enrol in bridging or progressive courses in future.

     In terms of outcomes, the overall passing rate of vocational training examinations was 97.4 per cent last year (99.1 per cent and 93.7 per cent for adult and young persons in custody respectively). Their employment rates after six months of employment follow-up period upon release were respectively 79.7 per cent and 90 per cent. On education, the overall passing rate in public examinations was 66.1 per cent last year (61.2 per cent and 72 per cent for adult and young persons in custody respectively). Among them, two persons in custody attained Level 5 in the subject of economics under the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination. One of them obtained 21 marks overall in six papers, and was successfully admitted to a bachelor's degree programme. Moreover, six persons in custody were awarded bachelor's degrees and two adult persons in custody were awarded master's degrees. The number of persons in custody attaining degrees reached the highest ever level last year.

Community Education and Effectiveness in Crime Prevention

     On community education, the CSD disseminates to young people, especially students, 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 the attendance was over 39 000, including young people and other participants of various activities. The programmes were well received, with positive responses.

     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 findings revealed that the social costs arising from crime avoided after the work of the CSD in these areas amounted to HK$74.3 billion from 2012 to 2016. The research is conducive to quantifying the effectiveness of our correctional services and the contributions towards the sustainable development of society.

     To further enhance effectiveness, the CSD plans to form a team of Rehabilitation Pioneer Leaders this year for young people with leadership potential. Our objective is to help them broaden their horizons and develop their potential through diversified training programmes. They will also be encouraged to actively contribute to society in future by helping to promote law-abiding values and support for offender rehabilitation for a better Hong Kong.

Human Resources

     The CSD is still undergoing a peak period of staff retirement. In 2017-18, we will recruit 44 Officers and 452 Assistant Officers II. In addition, a year-round recruitment exercise for the post of Assistant Officers II is underway to expedite the filling up of vacancies. We expect to recruit at least 50 Officers and, as and when vacancies arise, about 350 Assistant Officers II in 2018-19. In respect of staff quarters, a project at Tin Wan, Aberdeen, is under construction and expected to provide 70 units by 2019.

Virtual Reality Scenario Training

     The CSD has incorporated virtual reality scenario training into the induction training courses provided by the Staff Training Institute. Through different training scenarios and settings, these programmes enhance trainees' capabilities in dealing with contingencies in institutions. The system will also record the performance data of trainees for analysis and evaluation.

Complaints Handling Mechanism

     Persons currently or previously in custody may always lodge complaints via various internal and external channels. The complaints handling mechanism has been working effectively.

     The CSD reviews and enhances from time to time the complaints handling mechanism to improve transparency and credibility in dealing with complaints in an open, fair and just manner. The Correctional Services Department Complaints Appeal Board (CSDCAB), established in August 2016 and chaired by the Deputy Commissioner of Correctional Services, comprises community stakeholders who are familiar with correctional operations. At present, all 10 members of the CSDCAB are Justices of the Peace (JPs). The CSDCAB makes final decision on the appeals lodged by complainants.

     To widen the structure of the CSDCAB and further enhance the independence of the appeal mechanism, the number of members will be increased from 10 to 18. Apart from JPs, religious persons who are acquainted with correctional operations will also participate.

Dog Unit (Kunming dogs)

     To strengthen security within and outside correctional institutions, the Correctional Services Dog Unit has strengthened the training of Kunming dogs to assist in patrol duties. There are seven serving Kunming dogs, which are trained to be both highly submissive and motivated.

Conclusion

     Looking back, the CSD has risen to different challenges and made solid progress in various aspects of its work. It would not be possible without the dedication and hard work of our colleagues. I would also like to express special gratitude to the public, community stakeholders, volunteer groups, volunteers and friends of the media for their support and assistance in facilitating our work. I also take this opportunity to call upon society to continue to support and help rehabilitated persons to re-integrate into society, and to work together for the well-being of Hong Kong.

Ends/Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Issued at HKT 16:35