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Database Tracks Health Patterns of Woman Prisoners

Chinese woman prisoners in the eastern province of Shandong said they think it is helpful to have their bodily and emotional information recorded for the benefit of their psychological and physical health.

"Women are prone to psychological fluctuations. Female prisoners would become desperate at some minor problems at which male prisoners usually sniff. Now we have found an effective way to soothe their emotions," said Li Huiju, a female police officer at the Shandong Female Prison.


Li is deputy head of the fifth jail-block of the prison. She and her colleagues are trying to set up complete physiological and emotional databases for each female prisoner in the block. If they do so, according to Li, the documented prisoners could have individualized psychological instructions or special nutritious food when they are in need.


The prison is located in the east of Jinan, the provincial capital, and looks no different from shops and factories nearby. Going in through the gate there stands another white iron door, behind which all female prisoners of this second most populous province of China are locked up.


"Before we launched this (experiment), there wasn't any experience we could draw on. But we know it is a blank field in the management of woman prisoners and it should be done," said Li Xiufang, head of the fifth block who is in charge of what they call an experiment.


Li graduated from a police school specializing in prison management in Shandong. Not wearing the uniform, she spoke with smiles always in her eyes.


According to Li Xiufang, a lot of prisoners here are illiterate. Seventy percent of those under her administration came from rural areas and 80 percent did not complete senior middle school. A low educational level and women's natural sensitivity add to the difficulty of the management, and frays and fights are common.


"We have found that many female prisoners will suffer regular emotional uncertainty and that uncertainty is a close response to changes of their physiological conditions," Li Xiufang said. "We plan to have a clear understanding of each prisoner's physiological changes and so offer diversified, individualized instructions to prevent against possible misdoing by any prisoner," She added.


A 34-year-old prisoner, surnamed Sun, has a history of committing suicide. She became very upset and extremely sensitive before her menstrual period, during which she felt weak and in pain.


Knowing her symptoms, a psychiatrist was specially arranged to talk to her, and she was exempted from heavy work encouraged to writing articles for distraction during her menstrual period.


Two months later, the prisoner felt a significant improvement and her depression decreased. And as a result she had less conflicts with other prisoners.


"I have long been thinking that I am a bad-tempered woman, and it is not easy to get my illness cured. So I didn't expect that they (police officers) would have found the therapy for me," Sun, the prisoner, said.


Another prisoner, Cui, was 43 and sentenced to 13 years. She had a regular dizzy period of a couple of days every month, which was found to be related to her unusually long menstrual period. The prison authority issued light work for her, and provided her more nutritious food, helping her deal with the monthly hardship.


"Since July we have registered a remarkable fall in frays and fights between prisoners," Li Huiju, vice head of the fifth block, said, adding that the whole prison will soon extend their successful measures.


(Xinhuan News Agency September 11, 2003)

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