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Good prisoners get a day out of jail
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For Wang Hongjiang, even the sight of a traffic jam was beautiful.

As a prisoner of Zhoukou prison in Henan who had not been outside its walls for five years, Wang looked on in amazement at what most of us would curse.

"My eyes were so busy looking at everything. It was all so attractive. Even when we were in a traffic jam, I was still very excited," Wang said.

Wang was one of nine prisoners chosen for a one-day tour of local attractions as part of the latest efforts to reform inmates, the Henan Business Daily reported yesterday.

The group of prisoners was chosen for their good behavior and toured a museum and botanical garden on a chartered bus, accompanied by security personnel.

The inmates also visited Nanjiecun, a village famous for its transformation from poverty to wealth, where prisoners saw local exhibitions and ate lunch with locals. In the afternoon, the group went to Fugou county to visit the memorial hall of Ji Hongchang, a famous patriot general who fought against the Japanese in the 1930s.

Liang Shuang, vice-director of Zhoukou prison, said ideas about reforming criminals are changing from simply limiting personal freedom and labor to reform through education.

Liang said they decided to let some prisoners go out for sightseeing and study so they could learn about outside society and connect to it.

"Also, this is a kind of reward to good prisoners. More prisoners will behave better so they can be chosen too," Liang said.

According to Liang, only prisoners who meet strict standards get the chance to go. They must be active in reformation and have top standing in reform for two years, they must have a good record of behavior and they must not have a long time remaining on their sentence.

Xu Xinjun, director of the education department at Zhoukou prison, said prisoners are prone to psychological problems after long isolation from the society, and to let them experience change in the outside world is good step on their way back into the society.

Lu Benwen, one of the team, said he felt the preciousness of freedom after experiencing it again.

"When we had lunch with the prison police, with local officials and people, I felt I became a free citizen again," he said. "I will be more active in reformation and try to go back into society as soon as possible."

"My wife cried over the phone when I told her I just came back from traveling," Lu said.

However, some citizens worry that taking prisoners outside the prison poses dangers or gives them the opportunity to escape.

Liang said they took that into consideration and assigned a policeman to supervise each prisoner throughout the day, and the prisoners were handcuffed before arriving at each destination.

Lian Chunliang, a professor from Henan Institute for Correctional Police, said this educational model is called a "release study". While the model is in its beginning stages in China, other countries have already been using it for some time.

"This is a way to let prisoners study outside, not only for sightseeing," he said.

"It also helps them to adjust to the outside world beforehand, so that they won't feel so lost when they are out of prison," Lian said.

(China Daily July 28, 2009)

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