Social Issues

Prisoners petition to make calls legal right

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 January, 2012, 12:00am

About 30 prisoners have signed a petition urging lawmakers to grant them the legal right to make telephone calls home.

This comes after talks between a human rights group and the Correctional Services Department over granting an increase in the number of such calls broke down last month.

Inmates can only make calls of 10 minutes every three months, granted by discretion. The Society for Community Organisation says the provision lags that in Western countries and particularly affects prisoners from overseas.

The organisation met four lawmakers at the Legislative Council's public complaint office yesterday. Community organiser Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong said the law was outdated and it was time to make amendments to safeguard inmates' rights.

'Making phone calls is not mentioned in the current law. So the Correctional Services Department does not regard it as a basic right ... It is not a routine practice and is only granted by discretion,' Tsoi said.

One former prisoner, a Pakistani who identified himself only as John, said jails treated inmates differently. John, 38, spent 9? months in jail last year for an immigration offence.

He accused officers in Stanley prison of delaying his phone-call requests. He said he was only allowed to call home every four months there, while he could do so every month in Tong Fuk prison on Lantau.

'My four-year-old son is angry with me. He said I never called him. Before I was in prison, I would often call him. Now he says he does not want to talk to me,' he said.

John also said he was unable to talk to his grandmother for the last time before she died last year.

Annie Lin, from the organisation, said allowing prisoners' communication could help regulate their discipline and facilitate their rehabilitation. She called on the government to set up a telephone system and raise inmates' allowance to at least two calls a month.

In the US, inmates are allowed up to 300 minutes of calls every month.

Lawmaker Emily Lau Wai-hing said the request was reasonable and she would discuss the issue at a security panel meeting.

The Correctional Services Department said requests to make calls were considered on a case-by-case basis for security and resources reasons. It said the current practice complied with the law and international conventions and it would consider how to make improvements.