This April was a month to be celebrated by inmates sent down for re-education through labor in Beijing’s municipal prisons. They have been paid for their work in the first quarter of 2002. Even though annual bonus payments have been paid for some time, the new regular remuneration represents a first in Beijing prisons’ history of re-education through labor. The avant-garde move has stimulated quite a response.
In the relevant legislation promulgated in December 1994, the 72nd article reads: “Prisons should conform to relevant regulations to remunerate prisoners who take part in labor. Prisons should also apply relevant labor protection regulations.” Beijing’s municipal prisons, along with other prisons nationwide have implemented this since inception. However the practical interpretation of this has involved either an annual bonus or subsistence allowance. These have been subject to the prisons’ financial position and have tended to be unpredictable.
Prison officials said that this is more than just a change of name and format. The move will have far reaching significance. Assessing and remunerating a prisoner’s labor according to law represents an important mechanism for the prison in its role of enforcement and in working towards the reform of the individual prisoner through labor.
What kind of prisoners can be paid and what work must they do and how is their remuneration calculated? Jiang, chief of the production section of the Beijing Municipal Prison Bureau, gave a brief introduction to the regulations:
“These are the “Provisional Measures for the Remuneration of Prisoners’ Labor” which cover the scope of and requirements for remuneration for labor. They include the principles to be applied when determining the amounts to be paid and when making the payments.
“The scope of remuneration covers prisoners who take part in productive labor, manage production and maintain and repair equipment. Those who work in administrative, catering, cleaning and other service roles are also included.
“Once allocated work, the prisoner is assessed for payment according to performance as measured against a rating system. To be eligible for payment the prisoner must not have received a warning or other more severe penalty for breaking the rules and regulations or have caused an accident while working. The prisoner must also complete the allocated tasks whilst complying with safety regulations and meeting quality assurance standards.
“Payment can be determined in one or more of a number of different ways. It could be linked to the prison’s overall financial performance or set according to the individual’s skill level with increments for positions of responsibility. Piecework may also be used and this could either be applied to all the work undertaken or alternatively start only after a basic requirement had been met.”
A prisoner serving an 11-year sentence for theft said when he was signing the pay roll, “I’m really surprised to find that I’m getting paid in prison. People used to take it for granted that prisoners are supposed to undertake re-education through labor and that not being paid is just part of their punishment. I wouldn’t have guessed the prison authorities were going to introduce these new measures. I read the news about remuneration for prisoners not long ago in the Beijing New Life Paper and it is being implemented sooner then I had expected.”
Another prisoner said happily, “I’m pleased to be paid. Though the total amount is not very much, it relates directly to how we do our work in prison. It might mean very little to prisoners from better off families but it really does mean a lot to those whose families are in financial difficulties. It offers a welcome measure of security for those in prison undergoing reform.”
The cost of prisoners’ clothing, food accommodation and medical care are all met from state funds. Pocket money is provided at the rate of 5 yuan (US$0.6) per month for male prisoners and 6 yuan (US$0.7) for female prisoners.
Now prisoners have some real measure of control over the money they receive. Prisons now issue special permits to well-behaved prisoners to buy daily necessities and food up to a given value of say 120, 160 or 200 yuan. Previously they had to rely on family members for these purchases.
After the Beijing Municipal Prison Bureau enacted this system for payment for prison labor, many prisoners with relatively poor family circumstances have said they can provide for their own immediate needs by working and no longer have to rely on support from their families.
After the Provisional Regulations for the Remuneration of Prisoners’ Labor were enacted, Beijing’s municipal prisons researched the issues and worked out details for implementation. The system which they have introduced relates prisoners’ pay to their attitude to work, compliance with workplace regulations, proper completion of given tasks and to both individual performance and the economic performance of the prison as a whole.
Beijing’s prisons paid some 180,000 yuan (US$22,000) in remuneration to prisoners in the first quarter. Ninety-eight percent of working prisoners received payment.
(china.org.cn by Alex Xu, July 24, 2002)