2018-02-13 03:57:51

As China braces for its biggest travel rush of the year during the Spring Festival holiday, well-behaved prisoners are being given the chance to have short — and hopefully peaceful — reprieves with their families.

In an article published on its website Monday, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) said that around 1,300 prisoners would be granted temporary release over the lunar new year. As a security precaution, they will be required to wear tracking devices around their ankles and check in while they’re away. Prisoners convicted of serious offences — such as violent or terror-related crimes — are barred from applying for temporary leave.

Although China’s prison laws allow for short visits to family, most prisons had suspended the practice due to security concerns, among other reasons. But following a recent nudge from the MOJ, many prisons have started to reinstitute leave. Beijing, for example, is resuming leave-granting after a six-year suspension.

On Wednesday, prisons in southwestern China’s Sichuan province held a ceremony to announce the holiday leave scheme. According to a press release sent to Sixth Tone, this year some 260 people detained in the province will be allowed to visit their families — adding to the tally of 4,173 Sichuan prisoners who have been granted temporary leave to visit their families since 2007. Four prisons in Shanghai will also grant five days of leave to 10 prisoners during the Spring Festival, which this year is from Feb. 15 to 21.

“Not a single supervision- or security-related incident has happened [since 2007],” said the Sichuan prison administration bureau in its press release. A publicity officer from the bureau surnamed Jiao told Sixth Tone that the prisoners granted leave went through a stringent evaluation but would not elaborate on any specifics. In the case of Beijing prisons, however, criteria for temporary release include good behavior, time served, and risk to public safety.

While some netizens have applauded the temporary leave as a humane way of re-educating prisoners, some are concerned about the safety issues posed by the practice. “What if the monitoring bracelet breaks down or gets lost?” one net user asked. But a publicity officer from the Shanghai prison administration bureau told Sixth Tone on Tuesday that prisons are well-prepared for such emergencies — though he added that such measures could not be disclosed to the public.

“Allowing prisoners to visit their families is an effective way to encourage them in correctional education,” the MOJ said in its article, citing a justice reform guideline it released in January. In that guideline, the ministry appealed for a more prisoner-centric approach to management, instead of solely pursuing the goal of zero prison breaks. Since last year, the MOJ, together with other legal authorities, has announced measures giving more rights and protections to convicts, including providing lawyers with more secure access to their clients behind bars.

A 43-year-old prisoner in eastern China’s Jiangsu province shared his thoughts with the MOJ after being granted the temporary leave. “I used to think that my family would be devastated [by me going to jail], but the encouragement from the prison police and the enduring support from my family helps me see hope again,” he said, according to another MOJ article. The man had been sentenced to four years in jail for a hit-and-run in 2014.

In its article, the MOJ calls for a prudent approach in moving forward with the policy, adding that prisons should improve their transparency in processing temporary leave paperwork in order to gain greater trust from the public.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Prisoners prepare to give a performance during a Spring Festival gala in Changchun, Jilin province. Jan. 22, 2017. Shi Yun/VCG)