Don’t begrudge Hong Kong’s young offenders a second chance
Paul Yip’s visit to a correctional services centre for Hong Kong youth brings home the need to tap their evident skills and talent for the greater good, so they remain useful members of society
I recently visited the Cape Collinson training centre for young offenders with other members of my department at the University of Hong Kong. Our aim was to explore collaborative work with the Correctional Services Department, to better understand and improve the rehabilitation service provided for these youth.
Established in 1958, the centre provides training for young offenders aged 14-20, to prepare them for reintegration into society after they have served their sentences, which range from six months to three years.
We met young inmates enrolled in different training schemes, from learning to be a hairdresser and a qualified electrician to making Hong Kong milk tea. These young people have broken the law and are being punished, but they are also being given the necessary training and support to have another chance in life.
Our lunch was prepared by inmates and the quality was as good as, if not better than, that in a five-star hotel. Their preparation of Hong Kong’s iconic milk tea was especially impressive.
Some inmates who did not complete their high school education are being given a chance to do so.
One such inmate got the top grade in economics at the last Diploma of Secondary Education examination and the teachers are justifiably proud. The supportive environment and encouraging attitude of the officers in the centre are instrumental in helping these young people.
Indeed, it would be a big loss to society if they were not properly trained to become productive workers; the investment in putting them back on the right track is definitely cost-effective. Raymond Tang, assistant commissioner for rehabilitation, and his colleagues explained how they aim to help the offenders rebuild their lives, restore family relationships, regain self-esteem and improve problem-solving skills.
One inspiring story concerned a young man who was turned in to the police by his mother for illegal drug use and was sent to the centre. At the time, he hated his mother for her actions. However, he is now grateful, as his life might have ended up going disastrously wrong. His relationship with his mother has improved and he is grateful for the love and care of his parents.
We are also very encouraged by the department’s enthusiasm for doing more research to understand the problems of young offenders in order to improve their service.
Engaging our young people constructively is essential for Hong Kong’s development. It is in the community’s best interests to give young offenders a chance by not stigmatising them and providing the support they need to turn over a new leaf.
The long working hours in Hong Kong can be a barrier for parents to build a good relationship with their children. The academically orientated school curriculum puts off some from studying. A lack of strong family support and an unfavourable school life makes it easy for triad members to befriend youth and lead them astray.
It is encouraging that the recidivism rate at the centre has dropped significantly, from 40 per cent to 20 per cent in the past few years. Hong Kong is proud of its low crime rate and the prisoner population size has dropped over the years. We should be grateful to live in such a safe society, where we can take a humanistic approach to rebuild the lives of young offenders.
These young people are members of our community, too; we need them to contribute to the community. They have talent and skills that can be utilised and developed. By empathising with these young offenders and their family, we give them a second chance.
Paul Yip is a professor of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong