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Conditions in Chinese Prisons Improving, Authorities Say
After strengthening humanitarian efforts and adopting new high-tech equipment, the management of Chinese jails has seen remarkable progress.

"The current incidences of both escape and recidivism among prisoners in China have dropped to a record low since the nation's foundation in 1949," Du Zhongxing, chief official in charge of prison affairs from the Ministry of Justice, said recently.

In the First Women's Prison of south China's Yunnan Province, there are seven wards, each of which has been equipped with a TV room and a reading room. Prisoners can take books back to their cells.

To spice up prisoners' captive life, the prison authorities organized an art troupe, composed of prisoners who give shows regularly for their fellow inmates.

According to Warden Nie Wen, although the annual per capita allowance for prisoners is less than the 2,400 yuan(US$290) received by prisoners in east China, they are well fed, with eggs, meat and vegetables served in dining halls every day.

A prison breakfast menu for the second week of July featured Chinese rice pudding, rice-flour noodles mixed with fried salted jam, sliced noodles and steamed bread.

"We used to make sure that prisoners in China had enough to eat -- now we make sure their diets are nutritious," said Jin Yongsheng, head of the life and sanitation department of the Fifth Prison in east China's Zhejiang Province.

Prisoners' everyday intake of calories, protein and fat are determined thanks to the Life and Health Management Software, which was jointly developed by the prison and Zhejiang University.

According to Jin, this prison also tracks prisoners' health through computer systems.

A medical report for each prisoner is filed monthly, so that illnesses are closely monitored. "Should any individual situation become serious, we will contact hospitals outside and provide timely treatment," Jin said.

Psychological counseling services have also been launched in quite a number of prisons in China. Professional help is available for anger management, Jin said.

To provide more opportunities for exchange with family and friends, telephone "love hotlines" have been put to use in prisons throughout the nation.

Since June of 1999, prisoners in Beijing alone have made a total of more than 300,000 long-distance calls, according to Zhu Jianhua, director-general of the Beijing Bureau of Prisons.

"Greetings and exchange transmitted through the telephone lines have in many cases saved marriages on the brink of collapse," Zhu said.

This July, east China's Baoshan Prison offered the nation’s first batch of videophones for prisoners, which allow face-to-face time with family members and friends at a distance.

To help prisoners survive the fierce competition they are likely to face after release, prisons in China actively cooperate with local bureaus of both education and labor to train inmates with practical technical skills.

"Some of them learn to read, and others acquire technical skills. Once they are released, they can send their job applications directly to their local employment centers," said Wang Zhengming, head of the administration of prison affairs in Shanghai Bureau of Prisons.

"The conditions for Chinese prisoners have witnessed a gigantic improvement in diet, medical treatment, technical training and exchange with the outside world. That explains why prisoners in China can rebuild their confidence and serve out their prison terms with ease," said Du Zhongxing of the Ministry of Justice.

(Xinhua News Agency 08/27/2001)

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