Mong Kok video link takes legwork out of prison visits

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 January, 2007, 12:00am

Each day in a small room in Mong Kok, relatives, friends and partners of prisoners take turns sitting before a video monitor to chat to inmates in prisons throughout Hong Kong.

According to the latest figures released by the Correctional Services Department (CSD), 1,100 visitors last year chatted via video with prisoners in nine institutions.

A department spokeswoman said: 'The video-visit service enhances the face-to-face visit and facilitates those who are unable to take long-distant travel to visit the prisoners due to age, pregnancy or physical disability.'

The room at CSD's counselling centre provides a digital window into nine prisons: Hei Ling Chau Drug Addiction Treatment Centre and Lai Sun Correctional Institution on Hei Ling Chau island; Chi Sun Correctional Institution, Shek Pik Prison and Ma Po Ping Prison on Lantau; Stanley Prison on Hong Kong Island; Tai Lam Centre for Women and Tai Lam Correctional Institution in the New Territories; and Lai Chi Kok Correctional Institution in Kowloon.

The system was put in place in May 2003 after trials that began in 2001.

At Chi Sun, only six prisoners can receive visits at a time, so the video link means more 'visits' are possible. 'If a prisoner receives a video visit, he or she will still be entitled to two face-to-face visits a month,' the spokeswoman said.

A maximum of three visitors are allowed into the counselling centre and each visit lasts just 20 minutes, similar to face-to-face prison visits.

Legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing, who visits prisons about twice a year to hear inmates' complaints, said she was unaware of the existence of video visits. But 'if it works, and they're happy with it, it seems like a good idea.

'It's another alternative for those who don't want to travel so far. And some people may not want to be face to face,' she said.

Video links are among the technological upgrades being carried out as part of an undertaking to modernise ageing prisons.

Another initiative is digitised X-ray machines that mean prison staff will no longer have to deliver X-ray negatives from prison clinics to hospitals. The government is looking for a tender bid for a computed radiography system that enables the transmission of X-ray images of a prisoner to a radiologist.

'We can send the image via broadband. Before, we had to get someone to deliver the negative for the Department of Health to check,' the spokeswoman said.