Home > Topics > White Papers of the Government
中文
Criminal Reform in China


Foreward

I. China's Basic Principles of Criminal Reform

II. Guaranteeing the Rights of Criminals

III. Reform of Criminals through Labour

IV. Legal, Moral, Cultural and Technical Education of Criminals

V. Changing Criminals through Methods of Persuasion

VI. Humane Handling of Prisoners in Accordance with the Law

VII. Carrying out the Punishment of Criminals

VIII. Employment, Resettlement, Education and Protection for Convicts Who Have Served Their Term and Been Released



Foreward


Combating crime is a major social issue confronting every country in the modern world. Reforming criminals into lawabiding citizens is important for the survival of a civilization and the advancement of a society.

With a population of 1.1. billion, China is the most populous country in the world. Its crime rate is nevertheless much lower than the world average due to a series of measures adopted by the political power of the people to stimulate growth in the economy and maintain social stability. In spite of this, many crimes still take place every year, with tens of thousands of people convicted by organs of justice according to the law. The lawful punishment and reform of criminals remains an arduous task in China.

China's basic goals in criminal reform are to turn offenders into a different kind of person, one who abides by the law and supports himself or herself with his or her own labour, and to re-establish these people as free citizens in society. China has been successful in reforming the majority of its criminals, including the last feudal emperor and various war criminals, turning them into unoffensive, socially-beneficial, law-abiding citizens. This has safeguarded the country's social stability, economic development and national security, at the same time effectively protecting the rights of its citizens. China has been hugely successful in efforts to reform its criminals.

China has set up its system of principles, policies and laws for the reform of criminals based on many years of experience, representing an important step in the development of a socialist legal system. This introductory look at criminal reform in China should help the people of the world better understand our socialist system with Chinese characteristics.

I. China's Basic Principles of Criminal Reform


People can be reformed. The great majority of criminals can also be reformed. Turning minuses into pluses and changing criminals into people who are useful to society are in conformity with the great Marxist ideal of liberating all of mankind. Consistent with this understanding, China does not simply punish criminals; instead it emphasizes reform and change for the better. Therefore, even in the case of criminals who have committed serious offenses, China has always adhered to its laws and policies, which call for a minimum number of executions.

In the actual practice of criminal reform, China pays close attention to implementing the principles of humanitarianism. Criminals are not only provided with proper living conditions, but their human dignity is also respected. Humiliating of prisoners is forbidden. Chinese law clearly stipulates that criminals are to be provided with a humane level of material comfort during their prison terms and that the staff in prisons and reform-through-labour institutions must handle criminals in a civilized manner.

China strictly protects the due rights of criminals. Chinese law stipulates the various civil rights not restricted by law to which a criminal is entitled during a prison term. There are specific legal provisions concerning the rights a criminal must enjoy during the entire process from initial detention to release after serving the sentence. Chinese law forbids any maltreatment of prisoners by the prison staff and prisoners have the right to file charges according to the law. The law clearly stipulates criminal sanctions for any prison staff guilty of dereliction of duty.

In the reform of criminals, China operates on the principle that education is very important, attaching great importance to physical labour in addition to legal, moral, cultural and technical education to encourage criminals to stop looking at time in prison as a forced prison term and think more in terms of conscientious reform, to give up the idea of obtaining personal gain through criminal means, to form the habit of respecting other people and society in general, and to obtain the work skills needed for later employment so that they may become law-abiding citizens.

China attaches great importance to helping criminals change by means of persuasion. Therefore, China brings the efforts of specialized state organs and society together to reform criminals. Reforming criminals is mainly the responsibility of state organs in charge of reform-through-labour programmes and is carried out at prisons and reform- through-labour institutions. At the same time, under China's socialist system, reform of criminals is the common concern of society and receives energetic support from the public. Every sector and level of society supports and helps coordinate this work through the entire process of criminal reform, including resettlement and employment after a criminal has served his term and is released from prison.

Due to the implementation of the above-mentioned principles, China has met with great success in criminal reform.

--- China has successfully reformed war criminals. It did not use capital punishment on any of the Japanese war criminals, the war criminals of the puppet Manchuria regime, the Kuomintang war criminals or on the last emperor of the feudal Qing Dynasty. After their reform, over one thousand Japanese war criminals received lenient treatment and were returned to Japan. Most of them have taken an active part in anti-war activities, supporting peace and promoting Sino-Japanese friendship. After receiving special pardons and being released, the war criminals associated with the puppet Manchuria regime and the Kuomintang war criminals, including the last Qing Emperor, Aisin Giorro Pu Yi, became law-abiding citizens and did their best to work for the good of the country and the people.

--- China's rate of recidivism is among the lowest in the world. For many years, it has been around 6% to 8%. In contrast, the rate of recidivism in some developed western countries is around 20% or 30% with some going as high as 50%, 60% and more.

--- About 400,000 criminal cases are brought to trial every year in China. The country's crime incidence rate among the population is about 2 per thousand per year, which is among the lowest in the world.

The rate of recidivism and the crime rate are the main criteria for judging the effectiveness of a country's efforts to reform criminals. China's success in the reform of criminals proves that its principles and policies, as well as its laws and system are correct for handling the reform of criminals.

China is a developing country and the conditions and environment for criminal reform in China are still restricted by its level of economic and social development. With progress in its socialist modernization drive and constant improvement in its legal system, the country's efforts to reform criminals will reach new heights of success.

II. Guaranteeing the Rights of Criminals


According to Chinese law, a criminal's due rights during his or her prison service are protected and may not be violated.

In the semi-feudal, semi-colonial China of the past, prisons were tools of the feudal, bureaucratic and comprador classes who used them to persecute and slaughter revolutionaries and the oppressed people. In the 1940s, special agents sent by America and Chiang Kaishek savagely tortured and secretly murdered revolutionaries in Zhazidong and Baigongguan prisons near Chongqing. These atrocities remain fresh in the minds of the Chinese people even today. In those days even petty criminals were treated very cruelly. After the founding of the People's Republic, the people's government established a new type of socialist prison, where the prisoners are regarded as human beings, and where their dignity is respected, their personal safety is ensured and where they receive fully humane treatment.

In accordance with the current laws of China, the main rights of criminals while they are in custody include the following.

--- In response to decisions made by the people's courts, criminals now have the right to appeal. In 1990 and 1991, more than 40,000 such appeals were accepted and heard in Chinese courts. A criminal accused of having committed a crime during his prison service has the right to defend himself or ask someone else to defend him during the legal proceedings.

--- Criminals have the right to protection against assault on their human dignity or personal safety under all circumstances. In response to any illegal action on the part of a warden or guard, such as obtaining a confession by torture, administering corporeal punishment or otherwise maltreating a prisoner, the victim has the right to appeal to the people's procuratorate, the people's court, the people's government or any other institution to expose and report such treatment.

--- Criminals who have not been stripped of their political rights have the right to vote according to law.

--- Criminals have the right to make reasonable suggestions concerning the management, the educational programme, production, recreational activities, or sanitary conditions of a prison or reform-through-labour institution.

--- Criminals have the right to lead a normal life. The State guarantees material needs such as food, clothing, housing, etc. The average per capita living space for prisoners is over 5 square metres. Efforts are made to make all prison buildings solid, clean, well-insulated and well-ventilated. Statistics show that, the average prisoner consumed 22.75 kg of grain, 20-25 kg of vegetables and considerable amounts of pork, beef, mutton, fish, poultry, eggs and tofu in 1990. The average daily dietary intake of calories is 2952 Kcal per person. The annual average living expenses for a prisoner in different regions of the country is around 650 yuan, close to the average living standard of the local residents.

--- Prisoners have the right to maintain good health. They enjoy free medical care and receive a regular medical checkup every year. If they become ill, prompt medical treatment is given. Criminals suffering from a serious disease have the right to get medical treatment outside the prison on bail according to law. A female prisoner who is pregnant or breast-feeding her baby may serve her sentence outside of prison. Someone who suffers from a difficult or complicated illness, may be seen by outside medical experts called in to make a joint diagnosis or may be sent to an outside hospital for treatment. Currently China has a three-tier medical network within the reform- through-labour system consisting of the provincial central hospital, the prison or reform-through-labour institution hospital and the basic clinic. Altogether there are 2,944 medical institutions of various kinds. There are 3.54 medical doctors and 14.8 hospital beds per thousand prisoners, with both rates higher than the national average for society as a whole.

--- Prisoners have the right to exchange letters with their relatives and friends and to regularly meet with family members. Prisons and reform-through-labour institutions have special reception rooms where prisoners can meet with their family members. When some misunderstanding or conflict causes a prisoner's friends and relatives to stop visiting or writing, an organ of the reform-through-labour institution does its best to reconcile them.

Criminals have the right to an education. China's reform- through-labour institutions have set up the facilities necessary for the education of their prisoners, who receive a regular primary or junior secondary education according to their individual educational backgrounds. A prisoner with a more advanced background may receive a senior secondary or college education. A prisoner may receive vocational training, laying the foundation for supporting himself or herself with his or her own hands on return to society. They are allowed to read books, newspapers and magazines, listen to the radio and watch TV, in order to learn about major domestic and international events and maintain a certain amount of contact with society outside the prison.

--- Criminals have the right to believe in a religion. The Chinese Government permits prisoners who are so inclined to maintain their original religious beliefs while in custody.

--- Criminals enjoy certain civil rights, including property and inheritance rights. Property which was lawfully obtained before a criminal's imprisonment is protected under the law. A convicted criminal has the right to collect his earnings and dispose of his property. Criminals have the right of inheritance under the law. A prisoner's rights to a patent or copyright obtained during a prison term are protected by law. Prisoners also have the right to sue for divorce and the right to fight a divorce action in court.

--- The Chinese Government provides special treatment which is different from the general prison population in terms of daily activities, administration, labour requirements, etc. to juvenile, female, elderly, infirm and disabled prisoners in addition to minority nationality Chinese and foreign prisoners in full consideration of this group's special physical and psychological traits, physical strength limitations and daily customs. Juveniles are kept in juvenile deliquent rehabilitation centres which operate on the principle of "relying mainly on reform through education supplemented by light physical labour," which is actually a kind of vocational study. Prisons and reform-through-labour institutions have special dining rooms for minority nationality prisoners with special dietary customs.

--- A prisoner may have his sentence reduced for good behaviour or be released on parole according to law.

The legislative bodies and the government of China have drawn up appropriate laws and regulations to protect the legal rights of prisoners. Wardens and guards must receive special legal and vocational training, then be certified before taking a post. It is strictly forbidden to torture, insult or otherwise maltreat prisoners. Cases of unlawful administering of corporeal punishment are thoroughly prosecuted, including making an investigation to affix blame for the crime. In other words, in accordance with the provisions of the criminal law of China, a serious case of illegal corporeal punishment of a prisoner which constitutes "administering unauthorized corporeal punishment to a detainee" is tried in the people's courts, where any penalty is also decided. In 1990 and 1991, there was a total of 24 wardens and guards sentenced to imprisonment for this crime. The People's Procuratorate has sent permanent teams to prisons and reform-through-labour institutions to supervise the law-enforcement activities of these institutions and protect, according to law, the prisoners' right to appeal, right to make accusations and right to report unlawful activities. Deputies of the people's congresses and members of the committees of the political consultative conference at all levels visit the prisons and reform-through-labour institutions from time to time to check on law enforcement there. For example, in 1991 more than 30 members, composing four groups, from the National Committee of the Political Consultative Conference and the Beijing Municipal Committee of the Political Consultative Conference visited the No.1 Prison in Beijing to inspect the law enforcement work being carried out there.

At the same time, prisoners must fulfill their obligations under the law. These include: to abide by the laws and decrees of the State and the prison regulations and rules of discipline jointly drawn up by all the reform-through-labour institutions; to accept supervision and education from the wardens and other personnel; to actively participate in productive labour; to accept ideological, cultural and technical education; to take proper care of state property and protect public facilities; to behave in a civilized manner, be polite and observe common courtesy; to report criminal offenses; to become more self-disciplined and take part in group activities; to reform, bearing in mind the nature of the crime.

III. Reform of Criminals through Labour


China has criminals do productive and socially beneficial work, which is the main meaning of combining punishment and reform. China's experience in reforming criminals has shown that this measure is very effective.

It is especially important for criminals to engage in productive and socially beneficial labour. Firstly, productive labour helps criminals realize that social wealth does not come easily, fosters a love for work and helps them become accustomed to it, instills the idea of "no work, no food" in their minds, and helps them overcome bad habits such as sloth, aversion to work and hedonism. At the same time, working gives them a sense of social responsibility and law abiding spirit in addition to improving self-discipline. Secondly, having prisoners engage in an appropriate form of labour enables them to stay physically fit, which helps to ward off depression, listlessness, demoralization and even thoughts of escape, suicide or further criminal activity, ideas which spring from the monotony of prison life over many years. Thirdly, productive labour enables prisoners to acquire productive skills and knowledge which make it possible for them to earn a living when they have served their sentence. This makes it unlikely they will return to crime because of lingering bad habits or lack of job skills. Fourthly, having the prisoners engage in labour in a situation and format similar to those of normal society helps to instill the habit of working and cooperating with others in an organization in society. This enables them to adapt to a normal social environment as quickly as possible when they are returned to society.

Using forced labour as a means to reform criminals is a common practice in many countries of the world. Explicit conditions have been stipulated in the laws of many countries and in UN documents concerning forcing criminals to engage in labour.

China's law stipulates that all criminals who are able to work must participate in work activities. Those who are found to be unable to work by a doctor's examination or those who are old, infirm, disabled or otherwise unfit for work do not participate. According to statistics, about 10% of the prison population did not participate in labour in 1990. The Chinese Government opposes the use of labour as a means of punishing criminals, as well as the use of heavy labour as a means to maltreat prisoners.

China faithfully practices the use of forced labour as a reform method rather than as a method for punishment.

--- China has formulated a series of laws and decrees relating to putting prisoners to work in productive labour. Prisoners enjoy the same benefits as employees of state enterprises in terms of work hours, holidays, supply of food and edible oil, and occupational safety and health care.

--- Education is used to gradually change the prisoners' attitudes to the work activity from forced labour to conscientious work. When they first arrive, some criminals are not in the habit of working, or look down on work, so at first they must be more or less forced to engage in productive labour. The reform-through-labour institutions of China do not resort to crude methods of force to solve this problem. Instead, prisoners are subjected to continual education to teach them the importance of taking part in productive labour and to help them realize that an aversion to labour is shameful. From the beginning, they are given work which is within their ability to reform so that they gradually come to understand the meaning of work and develop an interest in it so that they eventually come to participate in reform through labour of their own free will. Take the last Emperor of China's Qing Dynasty Aisin Giorro Pu Yi as an example. When he first arrived at a Chinese prison, he was attended by people who put on and took off his clothes, including his socks, for him. Eventually, he began to willingly participate in work activities thanks to the patient education and careful arrangements found in Chinese prisons. He said he believed that the work activities played a major role in changing him from a criminal into a person who was beneficial to society.

--- In Chinese reform-through-labour institutions, a prisoner who is unable to work is exempted from productive labour. Prison staff are assigned to determine the prisoner's state of health so work can be found which the prisoner is physically able to do. Female criminals perform work which is in conformity with women's physical and psychological traits. Juvenile deliquents only work to learn skills, following a half-work and half-study schedule.

--- Civilized and safe working conditions are provided for prisoners engaging in reform through labour. In the area of occupational safety and health care, every reform-through-labour institution has a set of specific safety regulations and necessary safety measures plus special safety personnel who constantly monitor safety conditions and conduct inspections. There are explicit regulations relating to conditions in prisons and reform-through-labour institutions in terms of safety, hygiene, ventilation, light, etc.. Reform-through-labour institutions in China are judged in part by how well they conform to these regulations.

--- China insists that criminals be allowed to study and improve their production skills to make the prisoner look at the world in a new light and enable the reformed criminal to contribute to the modernization programme. One major way of judging a reform-through-labour institution is how successful it is in helping criminals learn and improve their production skills. This has played an important role in enabling reformed criminals to quickly become employed, keep their minds on their work and avoid going back.

--- Chinese reform-through-labour institutions encourage criminals who have special skills to contribute to society. In China, there have been a considerable number of criminals who became skilled workers or even key personnel in production through the assistance of administrative departments. Some have even become inventors and artists. One criminal named Mao in the First Prison of Hebei Province has made three major inventions and holds Chinese patent rights for them, winning public approval and a reduced sentence for himself in accordance with the law.

Over the past forty years, China has gained a great deal of valuable experience in reforming criminals through labour. Many prisoners have rid themselves of their bad habits through reform through labour, formulated a better outlook on life and learned to respect other people and society, and now maintain self-discipline and abide by the law. Many have had their sentence reduced or been released on parole for outstanding behaviour during the reform-through-labour process. Some who have returned to society after serving their sentence have become key production personnel, engineers, factory directors and managers. A few have even become "advanced producers" or "model workers". China's success in reforming criminals through labour has been justly praised by respected personages of great vision in the international community.

In China, products are produced by prison labour mainly to meet needs occurring within the reform-through-labour system. Only a small proportion of such products enter the domestic market through normal channels. Profit from reform- through-labour work activities is mainly used for improving the prisoners' living conditions, upgrading their common living areas and facilities and maintaining production. This has played a positive role in reducing the burden on the state and the people. There are two kinds of production in the reform- through-labour system: one is that carried out by the prisoners themselves; and the other is that carried out by the workers and their dependents in the reform-through-labour institutions. These two kinds of production are totally different in nature and should not be confused. According to statistics, the annual output value of prison labour in the reform-through-labour system for 1990 was only 2.5 billion yuan, which is about 0.08 per cent of the nation's total industrial and agricultural production output value for the year. In recent years some people in the West have been claiming that "China's prison products constitute the pillar of the Chinese national economy." Nothing could be further from the truth.

China prohibits export of products made with prison labour. No competent Chinese authorities has ever given any reform-through-labour unit the right to export commodities. On October 10, 1991, the Ministry of Economic Relations and Foreign Trade and the Ministry of Justice jointly issued a circular entitled "Reissue of Regulations Prohibiting the Export of Products Made in a Reform-through-labour Programme". The Chinese Government is very strict on this point and any violations of these regulations are dealt with severely.

IV. Legal, Moral, Cultural and Technical Education of Criminals  


Chinese law stipulates that the reform of criminals through labour should be combined with legal, moral, cultural, and technical education. Since most criminals are young, without much education and legally ignorant, an important part of the work of reform-through-labour is helping the prisoners become better educated and acquire more legal, moral and cultural awareness and working skills. To meet these objectives Chinese reform-through-labour institutions now run special schools, creating a criminal reform system with Chinese characteristics.

Since 1981 the Chinese Government has included education of criminals in its national educational programme. Where conditions permit, prisons and reform-through-labour institutions are required to set up special educational institutions to form a complete educational system for formal and institutionalized legal, moral, cultural, and technical education of prisoners. By the end of 1991, 72.82% of all prisons and reform-through-labour institutions had established such special schools.

The legal and moral education of criminals in reform- through-labour institutions emphasizes the need to plead guilty, abide by the law, improve moral values and better one's outlook on life. The purpose is to help criminals know, abide by, and accept the law and to improve their moral standards.

Legal education for prisoners mainly consists of studying the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, Criminal Law, Law of Criminal Procedure, General Provisions of the Civil Law, and "Code of Civil Law Procedures", etc. This enables them to learn the basic rights and obligations of a citizen, the legal consequences for committing a crime and the basic contents of the criminal law, the criminal justice system and the basic civil laws relating to marriage, family, rights of persons and property rights. On this basis, they should be able to draw a clear distinction between legal and illegal actions or criminal and non-criminal acts and become fully aware of the danger and legal consequences of criminal actions, so that they may admit their guilt, obey the laws and voluntarily accept reform.

Education in morality and outlook on life focuses on issues which are closely related to a prisoner's immediate interests, such as his or her ideals, happiness, conscience, pleasure or sadness, honour or humiliation, future, marriage, family, etc., making them understand proper social morality and sense of value so that a prisoner can clearly distinguish honour from humiliation, civilized from uncivilized behaviour, noble from base actions, and beauty from ugliness. At the same time, individual and specific education is provided to suit individual cases and coordinate with the lessons learned from their criminal activities. This has proven effective in reforming the minds of criminals.

According to statistics, 98.92% of all prisoners in China took part in legal and moral education in 1991. One prisoner in Guizhou named Mei, who took the legal and moral education seriously, overcame his bad habits during imprisonment. Since completing his sentence he has been well-behaved and law-abiding. He has prospered through his hard work and won the trust of the masses who elected him as the head of a model village, deputy to the township people's congress and member of the county committee of the political consultative conference.

Elimination of illiteracy and attainment of universal junior secondary education are the main objectives of cultural education in prisons, but criminals with a higher educational level are encouraged to attend correspondence colleges, part-time colleges or TV colleges offered by society.

Chinese reform-through-labour institutions regularly test the educational level of prisoners and prison students are divided into different grades and classes similar to the teaching programme in schools in society at large. Prisoners whose educational level is below the junior secondary school level are generally required to attend classes.

The overall director of a prison or reform-through-labour institution also serves as the principal of the institution's special school. The school also has a dean and teachers' office plus a teaching programme and curriculum prepared each school term and year. Prisoners study about two hours a day or 12 hours a week. Teaching staff are especially selected for the school and some are chosen from among prisoners with a higher educational level. Prisoners who have attended classes and passed the tests given by the local educational department will be given educational certificates equivalent to those issued by educational institutions in the society at large.

According to statistics, at the end of 1991, there were over 12,000 classes of various kinds being offered at China's prisons and reform-through-labour institutions. Over 518,000 prisoners attended the classes and the 92.35% of those eligible to attend were admitted. There were 5,300 prisoners studying through classes offered in publications, correspondence colleges, part-time colleges, and TV colleges and 4,000 who took higher education examinations for self-study students. Over the last six years, prisoners have been awarded a total of 902,000 certificates or diplomas of various kinds. A three-year regular educational programme which has been instituted for prisoners in the Third Prison of Shandong Province has brought the illiteracy rate there down from 17.6% to 1.3%. In addition, the number of prisoners with less than a primary school education has dropped from 65% to 5.3% and the number of those who have a junior secondary education or above has increased substantially. Revidivism has dropped to 1.9%. There was once a youth from the city of Shenyang who was sentenced to reform-through-labour because of his involvement in a gang theft. While serving his sentence, he conscientiously accepted reform and actively participated in the classes organized by the reform-through-labour institution. After he was released from prison he passed his college entrance examination and later was even admitted as a postgraduate at Harbin Industrial University, where he obtained an MA degree.

Vocational education is a major part of the education programme for criminals in China. According to statistics, over 561,000 criminals took part in training courses for various skills in 1991, representing 83.18% of the total number of prisoners who were eligible. A total of 546,000 certificates for various levels of technical proficiency were issued to prisoners by the labour departments in society as a result of testing.

To augment vocational training for prisoners, prisons and reform-through-labour institutions feature vocational teaching and research facilities, classrooms, laboratories and experimental plots set up by agricultural work units. Vocational teaching materials and various forms of reference material are provided free for the prisoners. Teachers are generally selected from among engineers, technicians and agricultural experts within the reform-through-labour institutions supplemented by technicians and teachers from schools or other institutions in society. Taking into account the social needs of prisoners who have been released plus the fact that they go in different directions, short, practical and immediately useful programmes are the main focus of vocational and technical training. Through courses which teach subjects such as home appliance repair, tailoring and sewing, cooking, hair-dressing, home poultry raising, carpentry, bricklaying, electricity and agricultural implement repair, prisoners acquire one or more skills during their imprisonment, in preparation for finding employment after their release. A study of 720 former prisoners with technical skills conducted by a reform-through-labour institution in Jinan, Shandong Province revealed that 96% found employment soon after returning to society. Some returned to their original work units and some were employed as key technical personnel inordinary enterprises. Still others set up household businesses, construction operations or other service industries, becoming individual business operators who behave themselves and abide by the law. A reform-through-labour institution in Lingyuan, Liaoning Province made a study 124 former inmates who had acquired technical proficiency certificates in prison. All of them had jobs and none had committed new crimes.

The systematic legal, moral, cultural and technical education of criminals is intended to make prisons and reform- through-labour institutions like special schools for educating and reforming criminals. This represents an important improvement in reform-through-labour work in the country as well as a development in the construction of a socialist legal system in China. Experience has shown that it is an effective way to improve our work in reforming criminals and promotes a good social order. This policy has generated a systematic legal system with Chinese characteristics.

V. Changing Criminals through Methods of Persuasion  


Changing criminals through methods of persuasion is an integral part of China's efforts to reform criminals, for which Chinese reform-through-labour institutions have generally adopted the following measures.

--- Healthy cultural, recreational and sports activities are offered in China's prisons and reform-through-labour institutions to create a positive atmosphere for bringing about change in the prisoners.

All prisons and reform-through-labour institutions have libraries and reading rooms for prisoners with books concerning politics, culture, literature, and science and technology as well as a variety of newspapers and magazines which may also be ordered by a prisoner at his or her own expense. Prisons and reform-through-labour institutions often offer eligible prisoners the opportunity to engage in activities such as artistic creation, news writing, reading, lecturing and essay writing competitions.

Many prisons and reform-through-labour institutions provide the prisoners with special teachers, painting rooms, and painting tools and materials and offer calligraphy, painting and other art classes. Some also invite teachers from society at large to give lectures at the prison. Shanghai Municipal Prison has held an exhibition every year since 1983, featuring 200-300 pieces of art created by prisoners. In autumn 1990, a museum in Beijing held an arts and crafts exhibition where over 700 pieces done by prisoners in calligraphy, seal cutting, sketching, oil painting, traditional Chinese painting, gouache, clay sculpture, stone carving, jade carving, wood carving, root carving, batik, embroidery, weaving, and paper cutting were displayed, which was well-received by the public.

Many prisons and reform-through-labour institutions have organized performing troupes made up of prisoners, who give performances produced by the criminals themselves. In some institutions sports activities such as basketball, table-tennis, and tug-of-war, in addition to various board games are often organized for the prisoners.

As part of the effort to educate and reform criminals as well as to enliven their daily lives, China's prisons and reform-through-labour institutions publish three newspapers, the Reform-through-labour News, the Blackboard News and the Wall News. Though prison staff are responsible for these newspapers, prisoners do the writing, editing, copying and blockprinting. At present, the Reform-through-Labour Newspaper has a circulation of 224,000 within the prisons. These prison newspapers, which are interesting and full of information, are praised by the prisoners as "good teachers and helpful friends on the road to reform".

--- China sets great store by the beneficial effects which the personal examples and words of the prison staff have on the prisoners in their care.

The state requires all prison staff to be ideologically morally sound in order to guide and inspire the prisoners with their civilized speech and behaviour in their daily work. The prison staff need to work especially hard on the education, conversion and redemption of juvenile deliquents, working in a sincere, patient and painstaking manner like parents with children, doctors with patients and teachers with students. Sometimes, the prison staff have to talk to a prisoner ten, twenty or even a hundred times before their concern can move the prisoner. When prisoners have special family or marital problems, organs of the reform-through-labour institution do their best to help, working with relevant social organizations.

--- Organizations in society actively participate and help in reforming criminals through education and persuasion.

This is one of the major characteristics of China's efforts to reform criminals and it has proven to be very successful in practice. Talks are given to criminals in prisons and reform- through-labour institutions by leaders of party committees and government departments; deputies of people's congresses; members of political consultative conference committees; responsible persons from the trade unions, the youth league, the women's league and judicial organs at all levels, and famous personalities, heroes, model workers, veteran cadres, senior teachers, workers and artists in society. They lecture on current affairs and ideals, raise the hopes of the criminals, make them feel as though people care about them and help them see that they have a bright future. Crime victims are also invited to come to prisons and reform-through-labour institutions to condemn the harm caused by crime to help enhance the criminals' sense of guilt and make them feel more responsible and repentant for their crimes.

Reform-through-labour institutions often invite model reformed prisoners who have turned their life around through reform to talk about their own experience. This plays a very positive role in building up the prisoners' confidence in reform.

When possible, reform-through-labour institutions arrange for prisoners who have shown good behaviour to go on a study tour of places of interest in society, or to have leaves during holidays for family reunions. This allows them to see how society is progressing and to feel that they are still members of society who should return as soon as possible to participate in the modernization drive of the country.

--- Reform-through-labour institutions actively encourage family members of prisoners to take part in the persuasion process.

In addition to regular visits covered by the rules, prisons and reform-through-labour institutions sometimes set up special visits for family members of criminals who are not progressing steadily toward reform so that they can advise the troubled criminal. The prison staff informs the visiting relatives of the recent thinking and behaviour of the prisoner, occasionally showing them around the cells and work places and inviting them to help in the ideological remoulding of the criminals.

The reform of criminals through persuasion by reform- through-labour institutions has received a sincere response from most prisoners.

On April 26, 1990, at 18:00 hours a severe earthquake of magnitude 6.9 quickly devastated most of the offices and dormitory buildings of the No.13 Reform-through-Labour Detachment in Qinhai. The buildings housing the prisoners were solidly built, so no prisoners were killed or seriously injured. In spite of the aftershocks and the fact that all the lights were out, not a single prisoner tried to escape. Instead, they began carrying out frantic relief work, rescuing 118 prison staff and family members. Afterwards, 115 prisoners had their sentences reduced or were released on parole, receiving favourable treatment in accordance with the law. Another 169 prisoners were cited or commended for meritorious service.

VI. Humane Handling of Prisoners in Accordance with the Law  


The basic principle governing management of prions and reform-through-labour institutions in China is humane handling of prisoners in accordance with the law. This means respecting the human dignity of prisoners and treating them humanely, resolutely forbidding prisoners to be humiliated and taking full advantage of the restraining, corrective, inspirational and guiding role of management in reforming criminals.

Criminals are sent to an orientation programme when they first arrive at the prison to learn in detail their legal status, rights and obligations as well as to become familiar with the prison environment. During this one to two month programme, prisoners study prison regulations and code of conduct in addition to relevant laws and decrees, laying the groundwork for their reform. This helps to dispel the new prisoners' normal feelings of passive antagonism and dread and enables them to come in contact and discuss what is on their minds with prison staff in a natural way.

Management of prisons and reform-through-labour institutions involves each and every aspect of the daily activities of the prisoners. The criteria and procedures for assessing daily conduct and conditions for rewards and penalties for prisoners are codified and publicly promulgated in order to prevent arbitrary or capricious behaviour on the part of the prison staff in their work. Prison staff must abide by this code to the letter in all aspects of their work. They keep records of the prisoners' progress in reform, regularly analyzing and summarizing their records. They commend and record the merits of those who have made outstanding progress in reform-through-labour and grant them favoured treatment in their living conditions and activities within the prison. For prisoners who meet the requirements, their cases are reported to the People's Court, where their sentence may be commuted or they may be released on parole in accordance with the law. This encourages a positive attitude toward reform-through-labour among the prisoners and establishes a positive atmosphere for reform- through-labour in the prisons.

Reform-through-labour institutions require the prison staff to maintain close track of all the day-to-day activities of the prisoners. They must organize work and study for, conduct classes for and have personal heart-to-heart talks with prisoners. They also have meals with them on major holidays and participate in recreational and sports activities with them, to establish emotional and intellectual ties. This contact goes as far as possible to dispel any feelings of aversion and repressed antagonism which the prisoners may feel toward the prison staff. Thanks to the effectiveness of these measures, there have been few incidences of prisoners attacking prison staff or sabotaging prison facilities in China.

In accordance with prison rules and decrees, the handful of prisoners who are serious violators of prison regulations or codes of conduct or who resist reform or commit another crime are punished. Punishment by solitary confinement in individual cases for serious violators of prison regulations must be collectively discussed by the prison staff and reported to the leaders of the reform-through-labour unit for approval. The duration of solitary confinement may not exceed 15 days. Prisoners in confinement are let out about an hour or so twice a day for fresh air, and provided exactly the same living conditions as other prisoners who do not take part in labour activities.

Any reward or punishment meted out by reform-through- labour institutions is subject to the supervision of the People's Procuratorate, which has the authority to demand correction of any actions in the management of these institutions that do not conform with regulations at any time.

VII. Carrying out the Punishment of Criminals


The punishment of criminals in China is carried out strictly according to the law, from the day they are taken into custody to the day of their release at the end of their sentence.

Criminals are handed over to reform-through-labour institutions only after the court verdict legally goes into effect. The reform-through-labour institutions have the right to refuse to detain criminals when the related legal documents are found to be deficient or when the verdicts have not yet become legal. Doctors must be on hand when new prisoners arrive to give them physical check-ups. Those who are suffering from mental illnesses; from acute, pernicious or contagious diseases; or from any serious illness, requiring treatment outside the prison on bail plus women who are pregnant or breast-feeding their babies are not taken into prison. Within three days after a criminal is incarcerated, members of his or her family must be notified so that they promptly learn of his or her whereabouts. In compliance with legal provisions concerning prison management, most criminals are allowed to serve their sentences in the area around their original residence, making it convenient for their family members to visit them and for their former work units to assist in educating them.

According to Chinese law, the reform-through-labour institutions must not only immediately pass on a prisoner's appeal to the department concerned at any time during the term of imprisonment, but also conduct their own analysis and study of the appeal. When the institution disagrees with a judgment, the institution itself may request the People's Procuratorate or the People's Court which made the original judgment to reexamine the case.

In order to foster the desire to reform among prisoners, Chinese law contains provisions stipulating a system for reducing sentences and release on parole. All prisoners who qualify, accept reform, and show true repentance or outstanding behaviour during their prison terms may be granted a reduction in their sentence or release on parole in accordance with the law. Since the early 1980s', a system of points has been generally adopted by all Chinese reform-through-labour institutions for assessment and determination of reward and punishment, wherein day-to-day behaviour of the prisoners as they undergo reform is translated into points. On the basis of a fixed number of points, those who show a positive attitude towards reform will be awarded additional points and those who show indiscipline or break regulations will have points deducted, with results of additions and deductions of points made public every month. Prisoners have the right to question or protest their scores. In accordance with the law, the reform-through-labour institutions regularly or from time to time recommend to the People's Court that selected prisoners have their sentences reduced or be released on parole, based on their overall conduct while undergoing reform. From the results of assessment and the published scores, the prisoners themselves are aware of the chances for having their sentence reduced or being released on parole. To ensure fair and rational rewards and penalties, strict regulations govern the procedures for reduction of sentence or release on parole. This method of assessment and reward and penalty greatly increases prisoners' desire to reform. According to statistics, in 1990 16.38% of all the imprisoned criminals in the whole country had their sentences commuted or were released on parole, and in 1991 the figure was 18.35%.

In order to reform those criminals who have committed crimes punishable by death but who may still be reformable, China has created a unique system of a death penalty with a two-year reprieve. Article 43 of the Criminal Law of the People's Republic of China stipulates that, "the death penalty is only applicable to criminals who have committed the most heinous of crimes. Criminals who should receive the death penalty but need not be executed immediately can be sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve, during which time they are to undergo reform through labour to see if it will be effective." In keeping with provisions of the criminal law, if a criminal sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve shows genuine regret for his or her crimes during the probationary period, the sentence can be commuted to life imprisonment upon completion of the two-year reprieve. Those who have shown true repentance and exemplary behaviour can have their sentences reduced to a set term of imprisonment between 15-20 years. In actual judicial practice, over 99% of criminals given the death penalty with two years reprieve have had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment or set terms of imprisonment through reform. Those who have had their sentences reduced to life imprisonment can have their sentences further commuted to a set term of imprisonment if they show repentance and exemplary behaviour during prison service.

For criminals who have committed new crimes in the prison or reform-through-labour institution, violating criminal law, the People's Court, in accordance with the law, is petitioned to pass sentence for the new crimes, to be added to the remaining term of imprisonment for the old crimes. As the overwhelming majority of criminals want to reform, only a handful of prisoners have been given additional penalties due to new crimes. According to statistics, only 0.387% of the total number of criminals in custody in the country were given increased sentences because of new crimes committed in prison in 1990 and only 0.319% in 1991.

For a female criminal who is pregnant or breast-feeding her baby, or a criminal who is seriously ill, the People's Court may sentence the prisoner to serve his or her term outside of prison. Release on parole for medical treatment is also granted to all seriously ill prisoners, who are serving either a set term or life imprisonment. Requirements for being released on parole for medical treatment are more flexible for juvenile, elderly and female prisoners. Statistics show that 1.91% of the prisoners in the country were released on parole for medical treatment in 1990 and 1.94% in 1991.

A reform-through-labour institution needs to do a certain amount of preparatory work before a prisoner is to be released, since a prisoner must be released in accordance with the law on the day the term of imprisonment ends. At the time of release, a prisoner is given enough money to cover travel and food expenses. If a prisoner to be released is not well, family members are informed ahead of time to come and take him home, or the reform-through-labour institution assigns people from its staff to accompany him to his home.

To help reform criminals, China, like most other countries in the world, suspends sentence for criminals who have committed a minor crime, have pleaded guilty and are not likely to further endanger society. In the past few years, the departments of justice have appropriately expanded the scope for sentence suspension according to law. In 1991, over 65,000 criminals had their sentence suspended. Judicial experience shows that giving criminals suspended sentences allows them to stay with their families, keep their jobs and remain in a normal social environment. This helps stimulate their enthusiasm for receiving reform and contributes to their reform through education and persuasion by society at large.

VIII. Employment, Resettlement, Education  and Protection for Convicts Who Have Served  Their Term and Been Released  


The Chinese Government attaches great importance to the protection of the civil rights of former convicts when they return to society after serving a sentence. The government has ruled that former prisoners are not to be discriminated against or shut out of society, and that they are to be offered jobs to provide them with opportunities to study and work and encourage them to go straight.

From long experience China is well aware of the fact that when a convict serves his or her sentence and is released, restoring and guaranteeing individual rights is important. However, the necessary conditions must be created; released prisoners must be given assistance in settling down and finding employment so they can avoid making the same mistakes all over again. Otherwise, restoring and guaranteeing a released prisoner's individual rights would be an empty gesture and would not have any really positive effect on society.

The Chinese Government pays a great deal of attention to making sure prisoners receive pre-release education. A criminal who has served nearly all of his sentence is sent to the release team who then take charge of the prisoner and the pre-release education. The release team makes an overall review of the prisoner's performance during reform in prison and, based on the results, provides supplementary education as needed to consolidate the positive results of the reform. Leading members and staff of local Party and government offices, taxation authorities, and industrial and commercial as well as labour and employment departments are invited to speak to the prisoners. They systematically explain recent social developments, current laws and policies, employment trends, etc. and teach them how to obey the law and behave properly, the best ways to handle practical problems they are likely to have, and how to deal with situations in daily life, family life, marriage and employment.

Prisoners who serve their sentences and are released are principally returned to where they used to live before they were imprisoned or where their immediate family lives. Society helps them settle down through various channels on many levels and in a number of forms. Those few who have no home to return to and are willing to stay on and accept employment are allowed to live in their former reform-through-labour institution.

The Joint Notification on Settling of Convicts Released from Imprisonment of May 1983, issued by the relevant departments of the State Council, provides a legal basis for the resettlement of released convicts. Following are the major points.

--- For a prisoner who has retained employee status during the term of imprisonment, resettlement is the responsibility of the former work unit.

--- For a prisoner who was dismissed or had his or her name removed from the payroll of the original work unit, but did well in reform-through-labour, before the prisoner's release the reform-through-labour institution is to recommend him or her to be rehired at the former work unit.

--- Someone who was jobless when arrested or is no longer suitable in some way to return to his or her former work unit is to be treated the same way as an ordinary person waiting for employment. In accordance with current employment policies, the labour department or neighbourhood committees in the city or town where the prisoner is released is to take positive steps to resettle the reformed criminal.

--- Someone who was in school when arrested is to be allowed to return to that school or go to a higher level school.

According to a random survey taken in several large cities, the settlement rate of released prisoners in Beijing from 1983 to 1990 averaged 83.4%, peaking at 90.2% in 1988. The average settlement rate in Shanghai was 79% from 1982 to 1986, 42.6% finding jobs in state or collective enterprises, 26.9% becoming self-employed and 9.5% finding other types of employment. In Tianjin, the average settlement rate in recent years was 85%.

In order to solidify the successful reform of released prisoners and prevent them from returning to crime, local governments coordinate the efforts of the relevant departments, society at large and the prisoner's own relatives and friends in supplementing the assistance, education and protection provided for them. For those who have a work unit, the factory or enterprise contacts the trade union, the youth league or workshop to set up an assistance group to help them. Those who have no work unit are the responsibility of neighbourhood committees and relevant departments. Township or village authorities are responsible for those who settle in rural areas, designating specific people to help them. Those who conduct themselves well are promtly commended and encouraged to make more progress; those who have made mistakes are given sincere help and advice. Those who seem to be returning to crime are continually advised of the bad consequences of such actions in an attempt to re-educate them with reason.

On March 2nd, 1991, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress passed the Decision on Strengthening the Multifaceted Approach to Public Security. It clearly stipulates that efforts to educate, rescue and reform law-breakers and criminals are to be strengthened, and that released convicts are to be appropriately settled to reduce the chance of their breaking the law again.

In June, 1990, the first Working Committee for the Care of the Next Generation was set up in China, with assistance, education and protection of juvenile deliquents as one of its tasks. Such committees, composed mainly of senior cadres, teachers and workers, have one by one been established in many regions, with about one million senior cadres across the country now involved in this work.

As a result of the implementation of these laws, policies and measures, the rate of recidivism among prisoners released in China is fairly low. Many areas and work units have experienced no recidivism at all for as long as ten or more years. Take for example, the Hongshu Housing Construction Team in the Yuexiu District of Guangzhou, founded in 1979. It has employed 178 juvenile deliquents and released prisoners since its founding, including 15 who became store managers, leaders of construction teams or chairmen of a trade union and 118 who have been commended by provincial, municipal, district or neighbourhood authorities. For over ten years they have not had a single case of a juvenile deliquent or reformed prisoner going back to crime.


Information Office of the State Council
Of the People's Republic of China
August 1992, Beijing

Suggest To A Friend
  Print