IV. Jail System
The Prison Law of the People's Republic of China was adopted and went into force on December 20, 1994 at the 11th meeting of the Standing Committee of the Eighth National People's Congress.

Regulatory Authorities

The Prison Law provides that the State Council judicial administration (Ministry of Justice) supervises all prisons across the country. The Ministry of Justice has a Bureau of Prison Administration that supervises all prisons in the country. In the provinces (municipalities directly under the central government and autonomous regions), offices of justice are responsible for managing prisons in their own jurisdiction through their prison administration arms.

Prisons in China are divided into two categories:

  • Prisons incarcerating inmates who have been condemned by courts to a fixed-term sentence, life sentence or death penalty with two years reprieve. Male and female inmates are warded separately, with female wards managed by female law enforcement personnel. Prisons may also be divided into wards for felons and criminals of misdemeanor.

  • Penitentiaries for juvenile delinquents, criminals of minor age who have been condemned by courts to a fixed-term sentence, life sentence or death penalty with two years reprieve. Special protection is extended to juvenile delinquents, with customized procedures in place to cater to their needs.

    Prison Setup and Staffing

    The Prison Law provides that the State Council judicial administration approves the establishment, elimination and relocation of prisons in line with historical, economic and natural factors. This provision is designed to optimize the distribution of prisons and ensure the unified, effective and accurate execution of penalties.

    Prisons usually have one warden and several deputy wardens and various administrative departments and staff. In addition to administrative offices and commercial institutions, prisons also have sanitary and education facilities.

    The Prison Law provides that the managerial personnel of prisons are members of the police force who enjoy the same legal status as public security and traffic police.

    Financial System of Prisons

    The Prison Law states that the state ensures funding for prisons in reforming inmates. Expenses related to prison police, reformation of prisoners, daily life of inmates, maintenance of prison facilities and other items are budgeted for in the central government's planning. The state provides production facilities and funding needed for prison labor. Land, mineral resources and other natural resources legally employed by prisons, as well as the property of prisons are protected by law; no entity or individual can trespass or damage those properties.

    Fundamental Principles

    Article 3 of the Prison Law states that prisons should follow the principle of combining penalty with reform, education with labor, in a bid to reform prisoners into law-abiding citizens.

    1. Transformation Through Punishment

    Prisons punish criminals because, without punishment, it is difficult for criminals to come to grips with their crimes and begin their life anew. While punishment focuses on enforcement, reform focuses on transformation. Punishment is the means, while transformation is the end. The purpose of punishment is to transform criminals into law-abiding citizens. This is precisely what criminal penalties are for. Prisons do not punish criminals for punishment's sake.

    2. Combining Education with Labor

    To effectively reform prisoners, it is also necessary to combine education with labor. Education can be multifaceted: ideological, cultural, vocational and technical.

    Execution of Penalties

    Law enforcement authorities implement criminal rulings and judgments passed by judicial authorities that have already taken effect, in accordance with legal procedures. Chinese prisons execute the following types of penalties:

    1. Committal, i.e. commitment to imprisonment of convicts who have been condemned to death penalty with two years reprieve, life sentence or a fixed-term sentence. Committal means the beginning of the execution of penalty, a serious law enforcement activity. Therefore, it must be conducted in strict compliance with legal procedures.

    Public security authorities that incarcerate criminals that have been condemned to death penalty with two years reprieve, life sentence or a fixed-term sentence must transfer the criminals to prisons for execution of penalty within one month of receipt of the execution notice or ruling. While transferring the criminals to the prison, courts must present relevant legal documents including copies of the prosecution statement prepared by the procuratorate, the ruling by the court, notice of execution and form of registration for closure of case. Prison authorities may reject criminals if these documents are not received. If these documents are not complete or contain errors, the court that issues the ruling in effect has to amend or correct the documents in a timely fashion; those that may lead to mistaken imprisonment may not be accepted.

    Criminals that have been taken in should go through physical, corporal and personal-effect examinations. Criminals condemned to life imprisonment or fixed-term sentence who have been found, during the physical examination, to have contracted serious illness needing medical treatment on bail or female criminals who are pregnant or breast-feeding their newborn may be exempted from imprisonment temporarily. That provision, however does not include criminals condemned to death penalty with a two years reprieve. The prison should notify the court of the result of the physical examination and the court, in turn, should decide whether the criminals should be allowed to seek medical treatment on parole. Personal effects that have been found to be incompatible with regulations should be confiscated; non-essentials should, upon approval of the inmate, be turned in to the prison authorities for safekeeping or returned to the relatives of the inmate. Female inmates should be examined by female police officers. Criminals should not bring their children with them to the prison.

    Upon admission into the prison, the prison authorities should notify the family of the inmate; the notice should be issued within five days of admission.

    2. Handling of Petitions, Accusations and Reporting by Inmates

    During the execution of penalty, petitions filed by inmates should be referred without delay to procuratorates or courts. Prisons should set up a complaints box and designate a special individual to open the box in order to facilitate grievance redress. The procuratorates or the courts should notify the prison within six days of receipt of a letter of suggestions submitted by the prison.

    Inmates have the right to bring a charge against or report prison police and other personnel for their illegal acts. The prison authorities should process the submitted materials and get the matter resolved if it falls within their jurisdiction; if it is not within their jurisdiction, then it should be transferred without delay to procuratorates or courts.

    3. Serving a Sentence Outside the Prison

    This is a system that allows criminals who meet prescribed conditions to serve their sentence outside the prison temporarily. This is done in two ways. First, upon announcement of the ruling, if the convict is seriously ill warranting medical treatment on bail, or is pregnant or breast-feeding her baby, the court may decide that the convict can serve his or her sentence outside the prison. Second, while serving a term, an inmate may be permitted to serve the remainder of the sentence outside the prison through meeting the following conditions: seriously ill and in danger of death in the short term; serious chronic illness for which medical treatment is not effective; over 60 years of age, in poor physical conditions and unlikely to endanger society anymore; physically handicapped and unable to work. In such cases, the prison authorities should prepare a written proposal and submit it to prison administration authorities of the provinces (municipalities and autonomous regions).

    Once the circumstances permitting a temporary serving of a sentence outside the prison are no longer there, prisoners should be readmitted and continue to serve their sentence. If the decision was made by a court, the prisoner should be handed over by the public security handler to the prison authorities; if the decision was made by the prison authorities, the public security authorities that handle the case should notify the prison authorities in a timely fashion. Those that have already served their sentence outside the prison should complete release formalities at the original admission prison. For those that died while serving their sentence outside the prison, public security authorities should notify the original admission prison of the death.

    4. Commutation of Sentence and Parole

    Commutation means an abatement of sentence in accordance with legal requirements and procedures. Prisons are responsible for filing applications to courts for prisoners who meet requirements for commutation. The court should review an application and adjudicate within one month of receipt of proposal. For complicated or extraordinary cases, that deadline may be extended for one more month.

    5. Release and Placement

    Upon completion of their term, prisoners should be released and issued a certificate of release. The prisoner should provide a written evaluation of the prisoner's performance in prison and hand it over along with a copy of the ruling to the public security outlet that handles the registration of permanent residence of the former prisoner.

    The released person should apply for registration of permanent residence with the local public security authorities with the certificate of release and they should enjoy equal rights as other citizens.

    Prison Administration

    Prison administration includes the following:

    1. Classification

    Prisoners, based on the nature of their crime, type of penalty, length of sentence, performance, age, gender and other characteristics, are classified into different groups and are incarcerated, managed and educated accordingly.

    2. Use of Warning, Preventive Devices and Weapons

    Warning, including armed warning, is resorted to by prison police to maintain normal order and security at prisons. Prison authorities may also decide to take security precautions such as guarding and control behind the cordon line. In addition, the prison authorities should also mobilize militias, security-maintenance organizations and the general public surrounding the prison to maintain order and security in the surrounding areas. Once inmates attempt to escape, riot, revolt, or outsiders attempt to break into a jail or stage a riot, prison police can join hands with external forces to put down the unrest.

    Preventive devices are used for inmates inclined to commit dangerous acts. They are not to be used for inmates who are advanced in age with illness, handicapped inmates and minor inmates under normal circumstances. Except for rare circumstances, they are not to be used on female inmates. Inmates who wear these preventive devices should not participate in labor activities organized by prison authorities.

    Use of preventive devices on inmates must be approved by prison authorities. If a contingency warrants it, these devices can be put on inmates before approval is secured, but approval formalities must be secured immediately afterwards. Inmates should not wear handcuffs or shackles longer than seven days normally and not longer than 15 days maximum, except for prisoners awaiting execution.

    Armed police and prison police may use weapons in emergency situations in compliance with legal procedures.

    3. Communications and Meetings

    While serving their sentence, prisoners may communicate with others, but their correspondence must be screened by relevant authorities. However, their letters to superior prison and judicial authorities should not be screened.

    While serving their sentence, prisoners may also meet with visiting relatives or custodians. In principle, they should not meet people outside their kinship, unless otherwise approved.

    In practice, aside from normal visiting times, prison authorities also allow prisoners to visit their family or handle a family emergency for a period of three to five days, but not to exceed seven days in special circumstances.

    4. Living and Hygiene

    Adult prisoners normally work eight hours a day; extended work hours as necessitated by production plans should be approved by prison authorities.

    Prisoners also have two hours of study time and eight hours of sleep everyday. Prisoners of minor age work half a day and study half a day; their sleep time should be no less than nine hours a day. Prisoners of minor age should not engage in heavy manual labor, labor that is beyond their physical capabilities, or other work that hampers their physical health. In addition, prisoners should have time for cultural or sports activities everyday.

    Prisoners should take statutory holidays and weekends off.

    Prisoners should be provided with food and beverages comparable to those provided to workers in similar fields at local state-owned enterprises of similar size. Prisoner kitchens should be managed by full-time staff and efforts should be made to improve the diet of prisoners as much as possible.

    Prison cells and surrounding facilities should comply with requirements for incarcerating criminals and other statutory requirements such as sanitation, fire control, anti-earthquake and heating standards.

    In addition, prisons should also set up clinics or hospitals in accordance with the size of the prison and the number of inmates and be equipped with needed medical devices and drugs.

    5. Rewards and Punishment

    Prison authorities may reward or punish inmates in compliance with legal procedures on the basis of evaluations of prisoners' performance in transforming themselves through education and labor.

    Evaluations cover prisoners' ideological, educational (political, cultural and technical), disciplinary and physical labor performance.

    Rewards can be public recognition, material incentive or a record of merit in the individual's personal file; punishments can be warning, a record of demerit in the individual's personal file or solitary confinement. Any reward or punishment should be recorded faithfully in the prisoner's file.

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