Finally the truth came out in the "hide-and-seek" case that has aroused much media attention across the nation. After an initial false report by prison authorities and an unsuccessful investigation by a panel consisting of "representatives of netizens", the Yunnan Provincial Procuratorate announced last Friday that Li Qiaoming, the inmate who died in a prison in the province on Feb 8, was actually beaten to death by "prison bullies".
The Jinning detention house had previously claimed that Li died while playing hide-and-seek with other inmates. The incident sparked a public uproar as most accused prison authorities for covering up the truth.
The more outrageous, I think, is the fact that some prisoners were allowed to bully or even torture other inmates under the nose of the wardens.
Prisons and detention houses are places where criminals are supposed to be imprisoned and reformed to become law-abiding citizens. It is unbelievable that they can play the despot and do whatever they like within the State apparatus of punishment. Unfortunately it happens in some prisons.
Just three months ago, a court in Gansu province sentenced a "prison bully" to death and extended the term of two others because they had beaten another prisoner so severely that he sustained serious brain injuries.
In 2003, a similar incident shocked the nation. Eight prisoners in a reformatory in Huludao, Liaoning province, beat a fellow inmate every day for a whole month until he died.
One cannot help asking: "How come this phenomenon is tolerated in prisons?"
Lax management is undoubtedly the main reason. What is worse, however, is that wardens in some prisons appoint the most violent prisoners as "group leader" or "meeting convener" to help control other inmates. These designated leaders, often feared and revered as "Big Brother" by fellow prisoners, form gangs in the ward to bully weaker inmates or extort "presents" from them. The wardens turn a blind eye to their behavior.
An even more heinous case was revealed last month. The chief warden in Lingshui detention house in Hainan province took bribes from inmates and allowed some to change wards and extort weaker inmates.
The existence of such phenomena is particularly worrying. If all prisons were like the above-mentioned jails, how could we expect criminals to be reformed and society to become safer? It is not uncommon for released prisoners to become even more lawless than they were before they were imprisoned.
Certainly we have reasons to believe that the phenomenon exists only in a small number of reformatories in our country. But the problem should not be neglected. It is serious enough.
A search of relevant information shows that at least seven years ago, the Ministry of Public Security, the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate jointly launched a campaign to "resolutely crack down on prison bullies and maintain order in detention houses".
The recent cases mentioned above indicate that the problem is far from being solved.
(China Daily March 4, 2009)