A brighter life for female prisoners

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 March, 2011, 12:00am

Always look on the bright side of life - that seems to be the motto of a new counselling service that will be offered at the city's largest women's prison.

The Lo Wu Correctional Institution will adopt 'positive psychology' for its new psychological treatment centre, which opens today, International Women's Day.

Clinical psychologists at the complex, which opened last August, said positive psychology was especially effective for treating female inmates, who generally suffered from different psychological problems than male counterparts.

Such psychologists study the strengths and virtues of individuals and try to nurture talent and ability to make life more fulfilling.

'In psychology, female inmates are usually powerless ... they may have experienced trauma or grown in a rather difficult environment,' said Dr Samuel Ho Man-yin, associate professor of the department of psychology at the University of Hong Kong. 'They commit a crime because they lose their power. It is different from male inmates, who commit a crime to show their power.'

Ho is also an adviser to the new treatment centre.

Vivian Mak Wai-ming, a clinical psychologist with the Correctional Services Department, said women inmates usually had more psychological problems and negative thoughts than men.

'In the past, we only focused on their negative aspects ... now we want to develop their potential,' she said.

Ho said the university department was the first in the world to combine conventional and positive psychological treatment methods to help prisoners.

Women in Hong Kong usually committed minor crimes like stealing or overstaying. Conventional treatment, which was helpful to men, may not be useful for women, Ho said.

Mak said the programme would not only solve the problems of female inmates, but also teach them how to think positively and develop their potential.

All local inmates aged 18 or above and sentenced to more than a year in jail will undergo an assessment for two to four weeks.

If it is found that they need positive psychological treatment, they will take part in a programme lasting six to eight months.

They will spend three half-day sessions a week in a colourfully decorated treatment centre, called the Psy Gym, where inmates can hold discussions, play music and draw pictures that help their recovery.

The programme allows 13 inmates to receive treatment from two psychologists at the same time. They will also be put in a specially decorated cell to interact and encourage positive thoughts.

Dr Judy Hui Shuk-han, the department's senior clinical psychologist, said of the 1,400 female prisoners living at the Lo Wu facility, 70 would need the service. They would run a trial scheme with eight inmates first and evaluate the programme afterwards.