30 Hong Kong pupils get half a day in Stanley prison, but government denies radical scheme is bid to frighten youth from political activism

Government insists prison experience for teen pupils is part of effort to fight youth drug crime

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 September, 2015, 12:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 September, 2015, 1:57am

The government has denied its radical new scheme of using mock criminal trials and detentions to deter teens from breaking the law is to frighten the city's impressionable youth into steering clear of political activism.

The scheme, launched yesterday by the Correctional Services Department, welcomed its first batch of about 30 pupils for the half-day experience, giving them a taste of life behind bars in Stanley.

One participant, however, said he would now hesitate if approached to take part in protests.

Leung Cheong-wai, 14, when asked if he would think twice before joining protests that had become more common since last year's pro-democracy Occupy sit-ins, said: "Yes."

He added: "Sometimes protests can turn into riots or something unexpected. Breaking the law at such a young age worries me. I would now ask my parents for advice if I were to go."

The first session of the Reflective Path scheme took Cheong-wai and the other boys and girls, all aged around 14, from a mock courtroom in the department's Staff Training Institute - where each was handed an eight-year jail term as "a criminal convicted of drug trafficking" - to the now-vacated Ma Hang Prison nearby.

Their experience included riding in a prison van during their transfer between the two places.

After going through the prison admission procedures, the group learned from prison officers how to make their beds military-style or to mow a lawn on a concrete floor while squatting.

Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said at the opening ceremony that the scheme was part of the government's efforts to fight drug-related crimes among young people.

The department said the decommissioning of Ma Hang made possible "a simulation of imprisonment at an actual correctional institution" for "an intensified impact", so youngsters could be guided towards law-abiding lives free of drugs.

About 50 school groups of 30 pupils were expected to join the scheme in the first year.

Dr Ng Shun-wing, an educational expert at the Institute of Education, said it was not far-fetched to conclude the authorities were trying to "bring youngsters into line", given the timing of the scheme's launch almost a year after Occupy started.

But Ng acknowledged the scheme would help youngsters understand the city's criminal justice system better - provided participation was voluntary. A participant, however, told reporters yesterday he did not join the scheme of his own accord.

Nathan Law Kwun-chung, secretary general of the Federation of Students, said he feared teens would be told an over-simplified version of the rule of law tilted towards an unquestioning belief in law abidance while neglecting the greater injustice certain laws perpetuated.