Following is the speech by the Commissioner of Correctional Services, Mr Sin Yat-kin, at the department's annual press conference today (February 7):
Welcome to the Correctional Services Department (CSD)'s annual press conference. The Year of the Snake is around the corner. I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a successful and prosperous Lunar New Year.
We are glad to meet you here in Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre and to give a brief account of our work and developments in the past year.
Profile of Persons in Custody and Development of Correctional Facilities
In 2012, the average daily penal population was 9 247 and the occupancy rate stood at 81 per cent, representing a decrease of 4 per cent from the figure of 9 658 in 2011. Among the penal population, 7 534 (or 81 per cent) were males and 1 713 were females (or 19 per cent). In terms of background, the numbers of local and Mainland persons in custody were generally steady while there was a marked surge in the number of those of other nationalities, in particular of females, which registered a sharp rate of increase of 21 per cent.
In terms of age, the number of persons in custody under the age of 21 continued to fall while those aged 21 and above recorded a slight increase in the past year.
Since the penal population has continued to decrease over the past few years, coupled with measures by the Department to reshuffle inmates (including the amalgamation of Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre with the adjacent ex-Lai Chi Kok Correctional Institution to increase its penal places from 1,084 to 1,484), the overcrowding problem of reception centres we faced in 2011 had been greatly relieved. Currently, only Tai Lam Centre for Women is still often beset with the problem of excessive admission, with an average overcrowding rate of 22 per cent last year. The partial redevelopment of the institution will be completed in 2016 to provide 108 additional penal places and improved facilities. It is expected that the long-standing problem of prison overcrowding can be completely resolved by that time.
Notwithstanding the alleviation of the overcrowding situation, many penal institutions, some of which were not purpose-built initially, are facing ageing problems. Among our 29 correctional facilities currently in use, six of them were converted from buildings for other purposes. Ten of them have been in operation for 40 years or above and the number will be increased to 15 five years later. We are proactively implementing redevelopment or improvement works to upgrade the outdated facilities to meet the modern-day needs of correctional services.
Acts of Violence and Indiscipline in Prisons
Discipline and order are of paramount importance to correctional facilities, enabling persons in custody to have a regular living regime with an organised schedule for work and rest. Moreover, these can ensure their safety and allow them to think deeply about their plan to start afresh upon discharge. In fact, many persons in custody are obedient and are 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 such acts of indiscipline.
In 2012, there were 3 362 disciplinary cases in penal institutions with 2 315 persons in custody violating prison discipline. Among them, 229 breached discipline three times or above while the number of times inmates were disciplined for being involved in gambling-related activities was 146.
There were 495 cases of acts of violence in penal institutions last year, mainly involved fighting among persons in custody and assaults. Whilst 38 cases of a more serious nature were reported to the Police, the remaining cases were handled through internal disciplinary proceedings. In 14 cases, correctional officers were assaulted during their course of duty and all sustained only slight injury.
In 2012, there was no case of successful escape. However, there were two cases of attempted escape. In one of them, the escape plan was detected in advance. In the other, an inmate attempted to escape when he was on a medical appointment at an outside hospital but was instantly stopped by the escort staff.
The number of seizures of dangerous drugs in penal institutions was 158 cases last year, representing a significant increase of 26 per cent over 2011. Apart from a few cases in which dangerous drugs were found in mail sent to prisons, articles brought in by visitors, and persons newly committed to our custody at courts, all other seizures occurred in the reception centres. The types of dangerous drugs seized mainly included heroin and psychotropic drugs and there were 113 cases of internal body concealment of drugs, representing an increase of 30 per cent over 2011.
To strengthen the security of penal institutions and prevent the smuggling of drugs by internal body concealment, the first X-ray body scanner was put into trial use in Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre at the end of last year. The scanner is mainly used for screening newly admitted male persons in custody to replace manual rectal searches. During the trial use, 1 451 persons in custody were searched and three of them were discovered to have concealed contraband in their body. The result has proved that the use of the X-ray body scanner is effective in conducting rectal searches of persons in custody. The new scanner has been put into full use in Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre since January 28, 2013. As for the practice of manual rectal searches of persons in custody in Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre, it will only be resumed if the inmate concerned refuses to undergo X-ray scanning or the scanner fails to function.
In the coming year, the Department has plans to install X-ray body scanners in other penal institutions, including Pik Uk Correctional Institution, Lo Wu Correctional Institution and Tai Lam Centre for Women.
Self-harm Behaviour of Persons in Custody
As with people in the community, some persons in custody have self-harm behaviour for various reasons. In 2012, there were 88 cases of self-harm behaviour by persons in custody. The great majority of these cases were discovered in time and the inmates were rescued by correctional officers. Unfortunately, two inmates died despite the rescue efforts.
To help the smooth reintegration of persons in custody into society after release and turning over a new leaf, we have proactively provided market-oriented vocational training for them. In this financial year, we have provided a total of 1 474 training places for soon-to-be discharged persons in custody, representing an increase of 10.5 per cent as compared with last year. The courses being offered include Painting and Decoration Training, Travel Agent Assistant Training, Cosmetician Assistant Training, Catering and Banquet Attendant Training as well as Removal and Logistics Training. Persons in custody may take these courses on a voluntary basis and the courses can meet the basic vocational training needs of eligible adult persons in custody. Furthermore, in response to the manpower demand in the construction industry, we will collaborate with the Construction Industry Council to introduce two new courses, i.e. Timber Formwork Skill Course and Bar Bender and Fixer Skill Course, in Tong Fuk Correctional Institution and Tai Lam Correctional Institution respectively this year.
To improve the arrangements for urine specimen testing, the Department is setting up a Urine Specimen Collection Centre adjacent to Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre and it is scheduled to commence operation in the first half of 2013. The new collection centre will be operated by staff outside the Rehabilitation Division who will be responsible for collecting and processing urine specimens of supervisees who were ex-drug addicts. The new arrangement will replace the existing practice of collecting urine specimens of supervisees for testing by supervising officers, with a view to minimising any possible conflict of interest. The collection centre will be equipped with video recording facilities to monitor and record the whole collection process to ensure compliance with stipulated procedures.
Smoke-free Penal Institutions
Although adult persons in custody are allowed by law to smoke in penal institutions and designated smoking booths have been provided, we have adopted proactive anti-smoking measures for the well-being of the inmates in line with the government policy. We aim to promote a non-smoking culture among persons in custody through education, publicity activities, counselling and smoking cessation courses.
Notwithstanding the above efforts, the number of smoking adult persons in custody is still on the high side. As at the end of 2011, over 94 per cent of the male adult persons in custody indicated that they have a smoking habit and requested arrangements for smoking by the institutional management. In a bid to further encourage them to quit smoking, a "smoke-free prison zone" was put on trial in Tung Tau Correctional Institution last year. Adult persons in custody were encouraged to move in and quit smoking. With the hard work and motivation of the institutional staff over the months, all the persons in custody concerned were willing to abstain from purchasing cigarettes and smoking, and made up their mind to quit smoking. During the trial period last year, 738 persons in custody in the institution took part in the smoking cessation initiative. On January 1, 2013, Tung Tau Correctional Institution was officially designated as the Department's first "Smoke-free Penal Institution", which only accommodates non-smoking male adult persons in custody.
The Department has started to implement similar programmes in other penal institutions. "Smoke-free prison zones" have been set up in Lo Wu Correctional Institution for females and also Stanley Prison for the admission of non-smoking persons in custody or those who are determined to quit smoking. During the year, more "smoke-free prison zones" will be set up in other penal institutions to promote a non-smoking culture.
Human Resources - Recruitment Exercise and Integrity Management
The Department is still facing a peak period of staff retirement. In the 2012-13 financial year, we recruited in total 52 Officers and 322 Assistant Officers II. It is anticipated that we need to recruit another 50 Officers and 175 Assistant Officers II to fill vacancies in the 2013-14 financial year, and the recruitment procedures have already commenced.
The Department has all along attached great importance to integrity management. Apart from setting long-term policy objectives, we have strategically extended the scope of integrity management, stepped up integrity training for new recruits and serving staff, implemented the Integrity Ambassadors Programme and organised diversified activities to promote integrity. In addition, we have proactively encouraged our staff to adopt a balanced and healthy lifestyle, as well as enhance their awareness on upholding ethics and integrity on various fronts and continue to foster the culture of integrity and probity in the Department.
Community Education and Crime Prevention
Over the past four years, we have made use of various activities under the Rehabilitation Pioneer Project, including educational talks, the Personal Encounter with Prisoners Scheme, youth forums, visits to penal institutions and the Hong Kong Correctional Services Museum, to encourage and educate young persons to be law-abiding, stay away from drugs and support rehabilitation. In 2012, more than 21 000 young people participated in these activities. This year, we will continue to enhance the scheme by arranging for members of the education community like teachers and principals to visit penal institutions. Through these visits, we hope to increase their understanding of the judicial system and correctional work of Hong Kong, with a view to helping them pass on correct knowledge to students during classes.
The Department went through a busy and challenging year in 2012. The developments on various fronts would not have been possible without the concerted effort, dedication and perseverance of all colleagues. In the days to come, my colleagues and I will continue to do our utmost to rise to the challenges for the stability of Hong Kong.
Ends/Thursday, February 7, 2013
Issued at HKT 15:52