Must amend prison schemes
THE aim of the penitentiary system currently employed in Hong Kong's prisons is to reform and rehabilitate prisoners, so that they can re-integrate smoothly back in to society.
The two schemes, Release Under Supervision Scheme and Pre-release Employment Scheme, offered by the Prisoners (release under supervision) Ordinance enable prisoners to get an early discharge on condition that their progress is monitored.
To be eligible for application for the first scheme, the prisoner must have served not less than one half or 20 months of his/her sentence (whichever is the greater), as stated in section 7(1) of the said ordinance.
In a letter from the Attorney-General's Chambers to the heads of institutions of the Correctional Services Department (CSD) last year clarifying the interpretation of this criterion, it was stated that the remand period of a prisoner was not counted as part of his/her served sentence used in calculating the date qualifying him/her to submit an application for the scheme.
I feel this interpretation is unfair and will discourage prisoners from taking part in the schemes. This will inevitably impede achieving the aim of the schemes. My dissatisfaction is based on the following grounds: It is not uncommon for an accused to be put on remand for a lengthy period (some for as long as two years).
The delay before the trial to be conducted in court is partly due to the inefficiency of the judiciary, a problem that is beyond the prisoner's control.
Those who are not granted bail will have to spend more time in prison than those who are given bail, before they are eligible for the scheme. This is patently unfair.
Some prisoners who are serving short sentences, who were put on remand, may find themselves unable to apply for the schemes before they are discharged.
It is unacceptable for the Attorney-General's Chambers to set double standards in regard to a prisoner's remand period.
On the one hand, this period is counted as part of the prisoner's served sentence in calculating his/her earliest date of discharge under the prison rules. But on the other hand, it is excluded in setting the earliest date of application for the schemes under the said ordinance.
Though some may argue that the status and treatment of accused waiting for their coming trials are different from that of someone convicted who is serving a jail term, the loss of liberty while the former ones are on remand should not be considered lightly.
When all the arguments are considered, the remand period should be considered when calculating the date of application for the scheme.
This would be fairer than the present set up.
I hope the relevant government department will review the situation and make the appropriate amendments.
LEUNG PO-YAN Kowloon