Inmates 'serve' their time in jail
Wearing a crisp waiter's uniform, 36-year-old Ah Fai expertly folds two napkins into fan shapes, arranges chopsticks on the table and then serves a fried pork dish. He's not working in a restaurant, though - Fai is doing this behind bars.
He is one of many inmates in the city's 29 correctional facilities taking part in hands-on vocational training programmes to help them find employment after serving their sentences and to stay out of jail.
Fai, who was sent to Tong Fuk Correctional Institution on Lantau Island last June after being convicted of conspiracy to defraud, is learning to prepare Chinese cuisine in a kitchen at the jail. Inmates also practice serving patrons in a mock restaurant.
'When I'm released [next December], I'm prepared to do any job at a restaurant, no matter how menial,' he said. 'I want to set an example for my son that crime isn't the answer.'
The 689 inmates in Tong Fuk can choose from among more than 1,300 vocational training positions in garment making, web design, metal work, carpentry and other vocations.
The most popular programme is the 100-hour Basic Chinese Restaurant and Culinary Certification Course, as jobs are relatively easy to find in the sector. Hong Kong has more than 10,000 restaurants.
The city's inmates already provide goods and services to the local community, such as road signs and laundry services for hospitals. And there are high hopes for them finding gainful employment after release. 'The majority of inmates in the prison system will be released,' said Tang Ping-ming, assistant commissioner of the Correctional Services Department. 'We hope that employers will give them ... opportunities.'
In the past three years, between 93 and 97 per cent of inmates have passed certification exams conducted by independent bodies.
The Society of Rehabilitation and Crime Prevention, which provides free employment assistance to ex-offenders, reports that out of 1,000 prisoners on its programme, 64 per cent find jobs within a six-month period.
But success depends on many factors. 'Vocational training isn't just about learning skills,' said criminologist Dr Nicole Cheung Wai-ting. 'When inmates develop appropriate job attitudes ... they are much more likely to reintegrate [into society].'
Percentage of prisoners on vocational programmes who find a job within six months of release, according to studies