System undermined

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 January, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 January, 1994, 12:00am

THE Commissioner of Correctional Services spoke about possible prison anarchy brought about by the Bill of Rights (South China Morning Post, January 10).

He is no alarmist. As a front-line correctional officer, I fully support what he says.

The job of the correctional officer has never been easy. It has been made more difficult by the Bill of Rights.

A number of management tools which for many years were a matter of routine are now declared improper.

We could bite the bullet and get on with our job if that is what other countries were doing. But quite beyond our comprehension, many of the things which we can no longer do are still widely practised in many other countries.

Take the censoring of letters and the conduct of rectal examination for example.

These are not allowed under the Bill of Rights in Hong Kong, but are authorised as a matter of routine in almost all other countries including the UK and the US.

Even the segregation of dangerous prisoners which is universally allowed was initially said to be improper.

The question that I wish to ask is: why can't we do what others are doing? Why should something legitimate in the UK and the United States be illegitimate here? The Bill of Rights is not unique to Hong Kong.

Why should we interpret it differently from others? Hong Kong has always been proud of its Correctional Services.

The basis of our success stems from the fact that the staff - not the prisoners - are in control. But the Bill of Rights effectively eats into and erodes our power of control. One thing is certain: if the staff are not in control, the prisoners will takeover.

It is in nobody's interests to see ''prisons on fire'', nobody, except perhaps, the bad guys.

I support the Bill of Rights, but not to the extent that it will destroy everything that we have built up.

The rights of the prisoners should be protected, but a very fine balance needs to be drawn between prisoners' rights and prison security and control.

Prisons serve certain definite social functions.

If these functions can no longer be served, the prison system will collapse.

A collapsed prison system is a collapsed criminal justice system. And this is not in the best interests of the community as a whole.