Increase phone allowance in jail, say campaigners
Human rights groups are calling for an end to current practice that limits inmates in Hong Kong jails to 10 minutes of phone time just once every three months.
The Society for Community Organisation says that non-local prisoners are the hardest hit, particularly women who were usually the carers in their family.
Indian inmate Babu, 40, who is at the Lo Wu Correctional Institution, said she could hear the voice of her sons for only a short while over the phone every three months.
'My sons are missing me. We have many things to talk about. But the officers put on a timer here.
'They always say 'time's up' and urge me to hang up,' said Babu, who was sentenced to 13 years in connection with a drug trafficking case in 2006. Babu said she always cut her phone calls short because she was afraid of being put in an isolation cell for not complying with the 10-minute rule.
She added: 'I feel very sad. I can't do anything here. I know very little about them [her sons]. I can't imagine anything.'
Local prison rules state that a prisoner can write letters to their families and receive two visits a month, with each visit lasting no more than half an hour. But there is no legal provision concerning the making of phone calls.
The usual practice is that inmates apply to make phone calls to their families and each application is considered on a discretionary case-by-case basis.
A prisoner can use the phone only up to 10 minutes once every three months.
This compares with the practice in the United States where inmates are allowed up to 300 minutes of phone calls every month.
It cost Babu HK$12 a minute to call India, which previously came out of the HK$500 a month prison salary she earns for making shoes.
She uses the pay to cover her daily expenses on items such as shampoo and snacks.
But she was recently given a phone card by the Indian consul in Hong Kong, which she says has made the situation a lot easier.
When she was arrested in Hong Kong, her sons were 18 and 15. The youngest suffers from epilepsy. Her term has been reduced from 13 years to eight years and nine months due to good behaviour, but Babu still has more than two years to serve.
She has heart disease and had to undergo an angioplasty procedure in prison in 2009.
Annie Lin, of the Society for Community Organisation, said: 'Telephone contact is especially important for foreign national prisoners for whom visits by families are usually impossible.'
At the end of September there were 8,017 prisoners in Hong Kong penal institutions. Of them, 2,350 were non-locals, including 850 women.
A spokesman for the Correctional Services Department would not comment on the treatment of inmates from overseas.
But he said there were no plans to change the current 'phone call' practices.
The minutes inmates in the US can spend on the phone each month, compared to only 10 minutes every three months in Hong Kong