Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(2) 728
(These 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 Meeting held on Thursday, 6 November 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 Bruce LIU Sing-lee
Hon LAU Kong-wah

Members absent :

Hon CHENG Kai-nam ] other commitments

Public officers attending :

Mr Alex FONG, JP
Deputy Secretary for Security

Mr Gilbert KO
Assistant Secretary for Security

Mr Kelvin PANG
Assistant Commissioner of Correctional Services

Chief Superintendent of Police
Hong Kong Police Force

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) 529)

The minutes of the meeting held on 9 October 1997 were confirmed.

II.Continue discussion on issues of overcrowding in penal institutions
(PLC Paper Nos. CB(2) 300(02), 462(01), 475(01) and 528(01))

Redevelopment of existing facilities to increase penal capacity

2.Mr Bruce LIU Sing-lee enquired whether it was possible to increase penal capacity through vertical expansion of the premises of existing correctional institutions. The Administration replied that except the old prisons built before 1975, most of the correctional institutions were of a few storeys high. The Administration considered that multi-storey buildings might not be a good option for housing inmates of correctional institutions because of the security and management problems involved. From the point of view of providing up-to-standard penal facilities, the construction of new prison complexes would be a better longer-term solution than expanding on the use of existing facilities. Deputy Secretary for Security (DS(S)) said that the design for new prison facilities, such as the redevelopment projects at the Stanley Prison area and the planned prison complex at Yam O, had fully taken into account the optimum use of the sites concerned, having regard to constraints posed by horizontal and vertical expansions.

3 .To facilitate a more detailed study on Mr LIU Sing-lee's proposal, members requested the Administration to provide an analysis on the additional manpower resources required for managing a more vertical prison structure of nine to ten storeys as compared with a lower structure of four to five storeys. Adm

Manpower for managing penal institutions

4.The Chairman said that given the long-standing situation of overcrowding, it was not reasonable that the manpower for managing penal institutions should be based on the planned penal accommodation, which fell short of actual demand. To ensure a secure and well-managed penal environment, the number of correctional officers should bear a direct relationship to the actual penal population. DS(S) replied that the present practice of manpower deployment in penal institutions was consistent with practices in other disciplined forces such as the Police and the Fire Services Department. He said that penal population was one of the factors for consideration but the matter should be viewed in a wider perspective to take into account other factors such as the availability of other resources and supporting services. The long-term solution to the problem of overcrowding would be to increase penal accommodation, coupled with additional manpower resources and supporting equipment and services.

5.Assistant Commissioner of Correctional Services (ACCS) informed members that in the case of group supervision of workshops in a maximum security prison, the ratio of prison staff to prison inmates varied between 1:20 to 1:25. The Correctional Services Department (CSD) had not envisaged any serious security risks associated with the overcrowding problem. DS(S) added that in practice, CSD exercised flexibility in staff deployment both within and between correctional institutions. On the rare occasion of an acute security situation, CSD could summon assistance from the CSD Emergency Support Group or the Police.

Forecast of shortfall of penal places

6.Members noted that the average rate of overcrowding for all prisons was 21%. Under the prevailing forecast, there would still be a shortfall of 3 000 penal places by 2003 even after all the development projects, including the new prison complex at Yam O, were completed. Members were concerned that the situation would further deteriorate in the absence of additional plans to increase penal capacity. DS(S) informed members that the shortfall of 3 000 places was based on an estimated projection carried out in 1996. The Administration was at present developing a more sophisticated model for forecast which took into consideration a wider range of factors in assessing the future shortfall. He said that the Administration was looking at measures to tackle the shortfall from the supply side. In addition to the projects as previously reported in PLC Paper No. CB(2) 300(02), the Administration had been examining a number of new proposals to increase penal capacity. DS(S) undertook to revert to the Subcommittee as soon as more specific details were available.

7.In response to members' enquiry, ACCS said that the planning and design for the various correctional institutions provided a built-in flexibility in that the institutions could temporarily take in prisoners beyond the certified capacity by about 15 to 20% without causing an immediate and serious threat to security and management. The co-ordination was done at CSD's Headquarters, which looked at the overcrowding situation and advised on the extent of adjustment, where necessary. The permissible level of excess accommodation might be higher for the more newly designed, open-celled type of prison facilities. The Administration clarified that this excess accommodation did not form part of the certified capacity of the correctional institutions.

8 .As requested by members, the Administration undertook to provide the following information in due course :

  1. a comparison of the new model for making projections of shortfall of penal places with the old methods of forecast;

  2. the projected shortfall of penal places by 2003; and

  3. apart from Yam O, the other alternative locations which had been considered for building new prison complexes.

Non-custodial sentencing options

9.Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) briefed members on the background and the present position of the Police Superintendent's Discretion Scheme (PLC Paper No. CB(2) 475(01)). He advised that the Scheme had been expanded in the past few years. Since 1995, the Scheme had been extended to cover young offenders up to the age of 18. Consideration was being given to further extending the Scheme to apply to young offenders involving in minor drug offences, provided the quantity of drugs involved was small and the offence was the juvenile's first offence and not constituting an offence of trafficking. The number of young persons cautioned under the Scheme had risen from 2 515 in 1992 to 3 884 in 1996. With the improvements in treatments received by juvenile offenders in recent years, in particular in relation to the provision of professional counselling and after-care services, senior police officers were encouraged to issue cautions to deal with a greater number of young offenders.

10 .Mr Bruce LIU Sing-lee enquired whether extending the Police Superintendent's Discretion Scheme to cover people of the age of 65 or over would help relieve the pressure on penal places. CSP replied that the number of people within the age group of 65 or above who were prosecuted before the court was small. The impact of extending the Scheme to apply to these people on relieving penal overcrowding would be minimal. With regard to the proposal to extend the age limit beyond 18, CSP said that the rationale for setting the age limit at 18 was that it was generally accepted by the society that people at the age of 18 should have transgressed from being juveniles to adults and therefore they should be able to be held accountable for their own action. The purpose of the Scheme was primarily to divert juvenile offenders from the stigma of a criminal conviction, through the administering of a caution, rather than prosecution, in appropriate cases. DS(S) supplemented that non-custodial sentences such as community service orders could apply to people over the age of 14.

11.In reply to a further question, CSP advised that it would be unlikely that a caution would be administered on an offender who would soon turn 18 and where it was considered that a lot of counselling and follow-up was required. In such cases, other forms of correctional measures would be a better option.

12.Mrs Elsie TU opined that with the increasing number of single-parent families in Hong Kong nowadays, the Government should strengthen efforts in providing the necessary assistance to the families of the juveniles who would be the subject of a caution under the Scheme. Senior Social Work Officer (SSWO) noted the point. He said that the Family Services Centres and the Corrections Section of the Social Welfare Department were performing the function in this area.

13.Referring to Annex A in PLC Paper No. CB(2) 528(01), the Chairman noted that the number of young offenders acquitted or given non-custodial penalties such as fines and suspended sentences had recorded a downward trend since 1992 to 1996. On the other hand, the number of offenders cautioned under the Police Superintendent's Discretion Scheme or granted probation orders or community service orders was on the increase. At the Chairman's request, the Administration agreed to prepare a breakdown of statistics in respect of young offenders sentenced for the three non-custodial options (the Police Superintendent's Discretion Scheme, probation orders and community service orders) in each year from 1992 to 1996. Adm

14.Regarding answer to Question 1(b) in PLC Paper No. CB(2) 528(01), SSWO clarified that the proportions of offenders who failed to complete probation orders in 1995 and 1996 were 28% and 25% respectively. These included cases of reconviction as well as offenders who were found untraceable or offenders requiring other forms of rehabilitation measures. For 1995 and 1996, the reconviction rates were 12.5% and 10.7% respectively.

Young offenders in various correctional programmes

15.ACCS advised that the various correctional programmes referred to at Annex 1(b) of PLC Paper No. CB(2) 528(01) included training centres, detention centres, drug addiction treatment centres and correctional institutions for young offenders. Whereas the average reconviction rate for young offenders in recent years was about 25%, the reconviction rate varied from 5% for offenders in detention centres to 30% for those in training centres. Prosecutions under sections 38(1)(b) and 41 of the Immigration Ordinance (IO)

16.DS(S) advised that Mainland illegal immigrants (MIIs) found taking up illegal employment in Hong Kong would be prosecuted under section 38(1)(b) of IO and could be given custodial sentence. The guideline sentence introduced by the Court of Appeal was a period of imprisonment of 12 to 15 months. People in breach of condition of stay would be prosecuted under section 41 of IO and they normally would be subject to a lighter sentence. DS(S) said that section 38(1)(b) could also be used to apply to criminal offences other than illegal employment. As at 31 October 1997, of the 411 MIIs who were prosecuted and sentenced to imprisonment under section 38(1)(b), 162 had previous convictions under the same section. As IIs might be prosecuted for multiple offences and for offences other than illegal employment, it was not possible to further breakdown the number of reconvictions into MIIs who had repeated the offence of illegal employment. ACCS supplemented that of the 411 MIIs sentenced under section 38(1)(b), 98 were under the age of 21 and 19 of these young offenders had previous convictions under the same section. The Administration had not classified MIIs prosecuted solely for taking up illegal employment.

17.Mrs Elsie TU was of the opinion that illegal employment was not a criminal offence by nature and an imprisonment sentence for illegal immigrant workers might be contrary to human rights. The Administration agreed to provide a written reply on whether prosecuting IIs for illegal employment and sentencing them to imprisonment would contravene the Bill of Rights Ordinance. DS(S) said that the existing policy on illegal employment was intended to provide a deterrent in response to increasing pressure of IIs attempting to come to Hong Kong to seek employment. Any change in policy, particularly at a time so soon after the transition, would send a wrong message to snakeheads and potential IIs and run the risk of encouraging a further influx of IIs into Hong Kong. Adm

Day in prison programme and weekend detention

18.Members agreed that the day in prison and weekend detention which applied to prisoners sentenced to short-term imprisonment in some overseas countries had serious drawbacks. The impact of these programmes on relieving penal overcrowding would be negligible.

Foster care scheme

19.SSWO advised that it would not be feasible in Hong Kong to recruit foster parents for young offenders over the age of 12. Some voluntary organizations were doing a good job in providing similar assistance to young offenders but most of the recipients of the service were people involved in minor offences who were not supposed to be inmates of correctional institutions.

Report on Research on the Effectiveness of Rehabilitation Programmes for Young Offenders prepared by the City University of Hong Kong

20.The Chairman advised that the Report should be discussed at the next meeting of the Subcommittee.

The way forward

21.The Chairman advised that the Subcommittee should hold an internal discussion at its next meeting with a view to formulating some preliminary recommendations on means to relieve penal overcrowding for the consideration of the Administration. Meanwhile, the Administration was requested to provide before 10 December 1997 details of any new proposals which were being examined by the Administration to solve the problem. Adm

III.Date of next meeting

22.The next meeting would be held on Thursday, 13 November 1997 at 10:45 am.

IV.Close of meeting

23.The meeting ended at 4:15 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
5 December 1997