Activists to push for jail overhaul

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 April, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 April, 1998, 12:00am


Human rights activists will discuss an overhaul of Hong Kong's overcrowded and understaffed jails with security chief Peter Lai Hing-ling today.

The Secretary for Security will give his views on a 1997 report compiled by Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Monitor and Britain's former prisons inspector, Sir Stephen Tumim.

The report is the result of visits to 12 Correctional Services Department (CSD) institutions last April - including Vietnamese detention centres - which found overcrowded and understaffed jails.

Its main recommendation - that independent checks be carried out - has already been snubbed by the Government.

The report dubbed inspection visits by Justices of the Peace (JPs) ineffective, and called for an independent prisons inspector, similar to the system in Britain.

The Government said there was already a prison inspection system, conducted internally by the CSD and externally by JPs.

Human Rights Monitor director Law Yuk-kai said: 'They [the Government] said they needed time to digest the report and see what recommendations would be taken up.' But the Government said it would not adopt independent prison checks aimed at making the system more transparent and addressing grievances.

The report found complaints from inmates had not been addressed. Figures showed that of 181 complaints filed in 1996, only four were proved.

However, disciplinary action at Lai Chi Kok was taken on 1,117 occasions - and only four cases were dismissed.

Inmates had limited contact with the outside world, the visitors concluded, and urged the authorities to allow them to write more letters, have more visitors and make more telephone calls. At present, they can see friends and relatives once a week and write a letter once a week.

The major criticisms of the prison system were overcrowding and understaffing. Hong Kong's 21 penal institutions should hold 10,400 inmates, but house 11,410.

'We hope for the full implementation of our report,' Mr Law said. 'If the Government does not accept this, they should tell us how they will address the problems.' Security Bureau spokesman Mary Leung Lai Yim-ming said: 'The existing channels are comprehensive and effective. However, we still welcome suggestions to improve the system.'