A new prison covering 40 hectares and accommodating 1,000 inmates in Beijing's eastern suburbs is being used to trial reforms to China's penal system.
"Yancheng Prison, erected in October last year, has 300 inmates already and is the first prison under the direct control of the Ministry of Justice," said Zhang Jinsang, prison head and deputy director of the ministry's Prison Management Bureau.
There are over 700 prisons in China. Except for Yancheng Prison, all are administered by provincial or municipal governments.
The new jail, also called the Central Prison, will house convicted government officials and foreigners, and conduct research into the protection of inmates' legal rights, Zhang said.
"With good medical facilities and living conditions, the Central Prison will serve as a trial base for new administrative measures to be introduced to other prisons," he said.
"Educational schemes, psychotherapy and community correctional methods will also be introduced to rehabilitate prisoners," he said.
Zhang made the remarks in China's eastern city of Nanjing during a recent seminar on protecting the legal rights of prisoners. The seminar was attended by more than 50 law experts and officials from jails and judicial administrations across the country.
Authorities will also consider separating prisons from subsidiary enterprises.
Since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, prison enterprises, also called "reform-through-labor camps," have served as correctional centers for prisoners. The centers make money from the inmates' labor to help improve their living conditions, said Wang Mingdi, vice president of the China Penology Society.
"The integration of prisons and enterprises has resulted in shortcomings in recent years," he said.
Wang said the reforms strengthen the corrective role of prisons and their protection of inmates' legal rights.
Legal experts at the seminar said China had always taken good care of prisoners.
Of the 78 articles of the Prison Law, 33 safeguard prisoners' rights, they said. In 2002, for every 1,000 inmates across the country, there were 5.08 doctors and 15.68 hospital beds, much higher than the average level for the rest of the population.
Moreover, hundreds of thousands of criminals in the past decade have benefited from educational programs, experts said.
However, they also pointed out that some prison wardens still need more respect for inmates' human rights, and arbitrary interpretations of the law have to be eliminated.
Jurists and officials proposed existing rewards for good behavior be enshrined in law, international best practice be adopted in Chinese jails and all prison wardens understand prisoners' legal rights.
(Xinhua News Agency September 13, 2003)