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
--- 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
--- 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.