Outreach worker pushes a punishing proposal
He has not broken the law, but businessman Stephen Lee Chi-kong has probably spent more time in prison than many inmates.
Since his days as a tertiary student 21 years ago, Mr Lee has been a volunteer worker extending love and care to the incarcerated.
His strong commitment led to his being named one of the 10 outstanding young people of Hong Kong in 2002. Now chairman of the outreach and support organisation Prison Fellowship Hong Kong - a member of the global network Prison Fellowship International - Mr Lee advocates restorative justice as an alternative to imprisonment.
'The prison system ... ignores the reasons behind an offence, and also the victims' needs,' Mr Lee said. 'For the victims, often the biggest harm inflicted is not physical, but the lack of trust in people and personal fear. Being able to forgive is the biggest relief for them.
'One pre-condition for restorative justice is the offender must confess his crime.'
Mr Lee, a businessman promoting renewable energy, believes the new approach can achieve reconciliation between offenders and victims, and help save public resources by easing overcrowding in prisons.
It may be new to Hong Kong, but it is far from a novel concept in countries such as Canada and Australia. Some form of restorative practice is used in more than 80 countries, according to Prison Fellowship International.
Macau is likely to be the first Chinese administration to incorporate the concept into its criminal justice system. A consultative document on tackling youth crime released there in April suggested police be given the power to determine whether youth offenders could be exempted from prosecution and instead have their cases resolved through restorative procedures - subject to approval by the court.
Under the new approach, 'restorative conferences' involving the offender and their family, the victim and their family, and anyone else affected by the crime, would meet with a trained facilitator, who would help them agree on the offender's punishment.
The penalty could be monetary compensation, community service, jail, or a combination of all three.
Other follow-up action could also emerge from the meetings, and the consent of a judge would be required before the agreed action could be implemented.
Foreign experience suggests the approach helps cut serious crimes, and Mr Lee believes it could first be tried on young Hong Kong offenders who commit minor crimes.
His group has set up a research institute on restorative justice in Nanjing and is due to help the Intermediate People's Court there carry out a pilot scheme, hopefully next year.