Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(2) 867
(The minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref. : CB2/PS/1/97

Provisional Legislative Council
Panel on Security

Subcommittee on Overcrowdedness in Penal Institutions

Minutes of the Fifth Meeting held on Monday, 1 December 1997 at 2:30 pm in Conference Room B of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, JP (Chairman)
Hon Mrs Elsie TU, GBM
Hon Henry WU
Hon CHAN Choi-hi
Hon CHENG Kai-nam
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee

Members absent :

Hon LAU Kong-wah*

Public officers attending :

Mrs Sarah KWOK
Principal Assistant Secretary for Security

Mr Kelvin PANG
Assistant Commissioner of Correctional Services

Mr Gilbert KO
Assistant Secretary for Security

Mr LEE Chan-yeung
Senior Social Work Officer

Clerk in attendance :

Mrs Sharon TONG
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 1

Staff in attendance :

Mr Paul WOO
Senior Assistant Secretary (2)5

I. Confirmation of minutes of meeting
(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 673)

The minutes of the meeting held on 21 October 1997 were confirmed.

II. Discussion with the Administration

Administration's response to the preliminary recommendations of the Subcommittee to relieve overcrowding in penal institutions
(PLC Paper Nos. CB(2) 601 and 685(01))

That the Community Service Order (CSO) be extended to district courts to provide the district court judges with an additional tool for sentencing, and that the necessary resources should be provided to strengthen the CSO Scheme

2. In response to the Subcommittee's recommendation, the Administration advised that the Government already had plans to enable the CSO to be extended to district courts, the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeal in October 1998 as an additional sentencing option to facilitate better rehabilitation of offenders. To implement the extension of the CSO Scheme, funding, which included the creation of three Social Work Officer posts, had been secured.

That the recommendation made in the Report of Research on the Effectiveness of Rehabilitation Programmes for Young Offenders prepared by the City University of Hong Kong that a short-term residential programme should be considered for those girl offenders who are regarded as being in no moral danger be adopted. This would help ease pressure on places at the Tai Lam Centre for Women

3. Members noted the Administration's reply that the above proposed programme catered for young female offenders under the age of 21. As the Tai Lam Centre for Women only accommodated adult offenders, members agreed that the proposal could not help relieve overcrowding at the Centre.

4. As regards measures under consideration to relieve pressure on the Tai Lam Centre for Women, Assistant Commissioner of Correctional Services (ACCS) advised that members would be updated of the latest position at the next meeting on 11 December 1997.

That a more in-depth study be conducted on the feasibility of applying in Hong Kong the non-custodial options presently available overseas

5. In reply to the Chairman's enquiry about research carried out by the Administration on non-custodial sentencing options available overseas, ACCS said that a thorough research had been conducted in 1995 by a study team led by the former Security Branch and involving the Correctional Services Department and the former Legal Department. The findings of the study had been summarized in Annex B of PLC Paper No. CB(2) 462(01) and discussed at previous meetings. The Administration had no plans to conduct a new study for the time being. ACCS said that given the problems and limitations as explained regarding the implementation of the non-custodial measures, the Administration was of the opinion that it should focus on working out supply side solutions, i.e. means to increase penal capacity, to address the issue of overcrowding.

6. In response to further questions by members, ACCS advised that many non-custodial sentencing options available in overseas countries applied to cases involving non-criminal elements, such as cases of forgery and the so-called "white-collar" crimes. Weekend detention was used mainly to deal with offenders receiving short imprisonment sentences up to a few weeks. At present, there were only about ten inmates serving such short-term sentences in Hong Kong. ACCS said that the decision whether to impose a non-custodial sentence or an imprisonment sentence rested solely with the courts. ACCS added that there had been occasions where officers of the Correctional Services Department met with members of the judiciary to exchange views on matters relating to sentencing of offenders.

7. With regard to rehabilitation of prisoners, ACCS said that the Government had been providing enhanced services since the last decade, which included, inter alia, employment assistance for prisoners about to be released and post-release supervision for prisoners etc. He said that the reconviction rate of prisoners sentenced for non-criminal offences was generally lower than that of criminal offenders.

8. Mrs Elsie TU opined that in some cases, particularly in respect of young minor offenders, an imprisonment sentence might render rehabilitation even more difficult as those inmates would then be exposed to the influence of bad elements in prison. A prison record would also seriously undermine the chance of employment after release. Mrs TU pointed out that the Director of Public Prosecutions had made a remark in a recent interview that he would push for more non-custodial options to be used. At members’ request, the Administration agreed to provide information in this regard and on whether the non-custodial options referred to applied to young offenders only. Adm

9. Mrs Elsie TU reiterated her stance that illegal immigrants (IIs) taking up illegal employment in Hong Kong were not criminals and that it would be contrary to human rights to sentence them to imprisonment for illegal employment. The Chairman advised that as the matter was related to the Government's policy on immigration, members might wish to take up the issue separately with the Administration. In this connection, ACCS informed members that about 400 prisoners, less than 5% of the total penal population, were II workers.

10. Mr Henry WU enquired about the measures undertaken by other countries with similar problems of overcrowding in penal institutions. ACCS replied that most such countries dealt with the problem largely through providing new prison facilities. He informed members that countries like Thailand, Singapore and Philippines were facing a much more serious problem than that in Hong Kong.

That the transfer of prisoners not of Hong Kong origin who are willing to serve their sentences in their places of origin, i.e. places outside Hong Kong, be expedited

11. Members noted that negotiations with other countries with a view to concluding agreements on the transfer arrangements were in progress. Members expressed the view that the Government should make every effort to expedite the process.

Follow-up on issues raised at the meeting on 6 November 1997
(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 685(02))

Additional manpower required for managing a more vertical prison structure as compared with a lower structure

12. Referring to the information provided in PLC Paper No. CB(2) 685(02), Mr Bruce LIU Sing-lee said that high-rise prisons might be a viable means to increase penal capacity and thus might help alleviate the problem of overcrowding. In response, ACCS said that high-rise prison structures were not desirable in terms of efficient management and control. Not only would a high-rise prison require more staff, but it would also pose operational and security problems such as in relation to movement of prisoners between floors and evacuation of inmates during a fire etc. He advised that both local and overseas experience suggested that a prison should be of a manageable size not exceeding 500 prisoners and five storeys. The design of the three new prison structures at Yam O (each accommodating 400 prisoners) followed this yardstick. ACCS added that the Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre, which was an eight-storey building, was built some 20 years ago and currently used as a remand centre for all categories of adult male remand prisoners. The design of the Centre did not at all fit in with the present day requirements of an ideal prison structure.

13. As regards optimal staff-inmate ratio, ACCS explained that it varied with the needs of different types of penal institutions. For example, correctional institutions for young prisoners required more space and resources for providing occupational training in a class-room setting, whereas in prisons accommodating adult prisoners, relatively more manpower would be diverted to managing workshops. ACCS stressed that in considering measures to increase penal capacity, it had to be ensured that effective supervision and control could be maintained.

Adult offenders placed on CSOs

14. The Chairman noted that the rate of increase of the number of adult offenders placed on CSOs had eased in the past two years. Senior Social Work Officer (SSWO) advised that the primary concern of the court was whether it would pose a risk to the community if the offender concerned was granted a CSO instead of given a custodial sentence. In this regard, the courts might find it necessary to apply more stringent criteria in administering CSOs to adult offenders than in the case of young offenders.

15. SSWO noted the Chairman's suggestion to compare between the application of CSOs to young offenders and adult offenders respectively, and to analyse the use of CSOs in cases where the offence was not of serious criminal nature.

III. Internal discussion

Response sought from the Administration

16. In addition to the enquiry mentioned in paragraph 8 above, members decided to seek clarification from the Administration on the following :

  1. regarding classification of prisons in terms of the level of security, i.e. maximum, medium and minimum security, the basis for determining the types of prisons that inmates should be kept; and

  2. the type of prisons, in terms of the level of security, that Mainland IIs sentenced for taking up illegal employment would be kept.
Recommendations of the Subcommittee on relieving overcrowding in penal institutions

17. Members resolved that the following points should be included in the Subcommittee's report :

  1. the CSO should be extended to district courts and necessary resources should be provided to strengthen the CSO Scheme;

  2. as circumstances might have changed since the research in 1995, a more comprehensive review should be conducted on the feasibility of applying various non-custodial sentencing options, having regard to the experiences of overseas countries where such measures were available;

  3. consideration should be given, where possible, to widening the use of non-custodial options currently available, particularly as regards sentencing of adult offenders not involved in violent crimes or offences of a criminal nature; and

  4. arrangements for the transfer of prisoners not of Hong Kong origin who were willing to serve their sentences in their places of origin should be expedited.

18. Members agreed that no recommendation should be made for reducing the imprisonment sentence for Mainland IIs prosecuted for taking up illegal employment in Hong Kong to avoid the wrong message that the Government was relaxing on its immigration policy which might as a result induce more IIs to come to Hong Kong.

IV. Date of next meeting

19. The next meeting was scheduled for 11 December 1997 at 10:45 am.

V. Close of meeting

20. The meeting ended at 4:00 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
6 January 1998

*other commitments