New training for guards helps reduce violence in prisons
Brawls among inmates and assaults on jail staff have been reduced now that the Correctional Services Department trains prison guards in how to handle such incidents.
Where once violence among inmates was handled any way officers saw fit, these days they follow well-defined rules.
Guards sometimes had to resort to force to restore order, but the aim was always to use the minimum force necessary, said Kan Chi-keung, principal of the Hong Kong Correctional Services Institute.
There were rules covering matters such as how many riot shields to issue and how many containers of pepper spray to use to subdue inmates in different circumstances.
The institute, at Stanley Prison, has been training prison officers since 1958. It runs new courses, which Mr Kan said every new recruit had to complete before being allowed to deal with inmates.
Officers who will be expected to deal with the toughest situations get 26 weeks' training, while those likely to deal with less serious problems get 23 weeks. Existing frontline officers take a shorter course.
The training is both physical and psychological, and covers the tactics staff need to use to quell violence.
The department has about 6,500 staff, most of whom are on the front line. The courses can accommodate about 300 a year.
Between 2004 and 2006, prisoners attacked guards 66 times - an average of 22 incidents a year. Since then, there have been 40 attacks - 15 in 2007, 16 last year and nine in the first half of this year. In 2007, there were 687 fights between prisoners, last year there were 574 and in the first half of this year there were 285.
Sometimes prisoners used weapons, such as sharpened toothbrush handles, Mr Kan said. That was hard to prevent, since inmates needed to brush their teeth, but there were measures to ensure that as far as possible, prisoners working in jail kitchens could not remove knives or other sharp objects.
Prison guard Mike Wong Tin-lun recalled having to resort to force and pepper spray to subdue a prisoner who was shouting, throwing objects and would not listen to orders.
'After the incident, I realised the training was very important. It made me understand what was the right thing to do,' Mr Wong said.