Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No.CB(2) 822

Ref. : CB2/PS/1/97

Provisional Legislative Council
Panel on Security

Subcommittee on Overcrowdedness in Penal Institutions

Minutes of the Fourth Meeting held on Thursday, 13 November 1997 at 10:45 am in Conference Room B of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, JP (Chairman)
Hon Henry WU
Hon CHENG Kai-nam
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee

Members absent :

*Hon Mrs Elsie TU, GBM
*Hon CHAN Choi-hi
*Hon LAU Kong-wah

Clerk in attendance:

Mrs Sharon TONG
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 1

Staff in attendance :

Mr Paul WOO
Senior Assistant Secretary (2)5

I.Internal discussion on issues of overcrowding in penal institutions
(PLC Paper Nos. CB(2) 300(02), 409(01), 462(01) and 528(01);
Summary Report on Research on the Effectiveness of Rehabilitation Programmes for Young Offenders prepared by City University of Hong Kong)

The Chairman advised that the purpose of the internal discussion was to achieve a consensus view of the Subcommittee on possible means to relieve overcrowding in penal institutions, based on previous discussions with the Administration on the subject. Pending an examination of the Government's further proposals to deal with the problem, which the Administration had undertaken to provide before 10 December 1997, the Subcommittee should start drawing up preliminary recommendations for the consideration of the Administration.

Non-custodial sentencing options

Community Service Orders (CSOs)

2. Members noted the recommendation made in paragraph 109 of the Summary Report on Research on the Effectiveness of Rehabilitation Programmes for Young Offenders prepared by City University of Hong Kong (the Report) for extension of CSOs to district courts for the rehabilitation of young offenders. Members shared the view that extending CSOs to district court and to cover offences committed by adults which could lead to imprisonment would help relieve pressure on penal places to a certain extent. Members, on the other hand, were aware that the message should not be put to the judiciary that the purpose of extending CSOs to district courts was solely for addressing the overcrowdedness issue. Rather, it should be stressed that the proposal had the advantage of providing an additional sentencing option to facilitate both punishment and better rehabilitation of offenders. Whether or not CSOs should be granted in individual cases remained a matter for the decision of the courts.

Special rehabilitation programme for young female offenders

3. The Chairman drew members’ attention to the proposal in paragraph 114 of the Report that a short-term residential programme should be considered for girl offenders who were regarded as being in no moral danger. She said that some inmates in the Tai Lam Centre for Women might be suitable target groups referred to in the proposal and therefore the proposal, if adopted, could relieve overcrowding in the Tai Lam Centre. The Chairman considered that the Administration's views on the proposal should be sought.

Police Superintendent's Discretion Scheme

4. Members agreed with the Administration that it was not appropriate to extend the Scheme to cover adult offenders beyond the age of 18. As the Scheme had been expanded considerably in its use in recent years, members decided that no further extension of its scope and coverage was required in the meantime.

Review of non-custodial options available overseas

5. Members agreed that some of the non-custodial sentencing options available overseas, such as day in prison programme and weekend detention, were not suitable for Hong Kong. The impact on relieving overcrowding in penal institutions was also negligible. Nonetheless, members were not convinced that the Administration had undertaken sufficient research study into all the options. Members resolved that the Administration should be requested to carry out a more comprehensive review on the feasibility of applying in Hong Kong some of the non-custodial options available in overseas countries.

Imprisonment of illegal immigrants (IIs) for taking up illegal employment

6. Members noted the view expressed by Mrs Elsie TU at previous meetings that IIs taking up illegal employment were not criminals and therefore they should not be imprisoned. Members, however, shared the view that the matter involved the policy relating to the stamping out of IIs in Hong Kong. Members were concerned that to relax on the imprisonment sentence for II workers would send a wrong message to potential IIs intendent on seeking illegal employment in Hong Kong, thereby attracting more people to come to Hong Kong illegally. Any such proposal would be taken as a retrograde step to achieving the policy objective and would not be accepted by the community. In addition, members were of the opinion that to impose a lesser imprisonment sentence on II workers could in fact worsen the overcrowding situation as more II workers would be induced to come again, resulting in a greater number of convictions of re-offenders.

7. Members resolved that no shortening of the imprisonment sentence for IIs taking up illegal employment in Hong Kong should be proposed.

Transfer of prisoners to their places of origin

8. Members opined that prisoners not of Hong Kong origin who were willing to serve their sentences in their places of origin should be allowed every opportunity to do so, subject to the fulfilment of the necessary requirements. In this regard, members agreed that the Administration should be urged to expedite negotiations with other jurisdictions, including the Central People's Government of the Mainland of China, with a view to concluding bi-lateral agreements on arrangements for transfer of sentenced persons.

Manpower for managing penal institutions

9. Members disagreed with the Administration's stand that the manpower for managing penal institutions should be based on the planned penal accommodation. Members considered that to ensure efficient management and control of penal institutions, staff requirements should relate directly to actual penal population. In view of the fact that occupancy of a number of correctional institutions already far exceeded the "tolerance" level of over-accommodation, the Administration should bring in place a mechanism for review to ensure that at any point in time, and particularly in situations where a long-standing problem of overcrowding existed, there should be sufficient manpower to maintain order in the penal institutions. The Chairman advised that this point, despite it being incidental to the matter of overcrowding in penal institutions, should be included in the Subcommittee's report.

II.Response sought from the Administration

10. Members resolved to seek the Administration's comments on the following preliminary recommendations proposed by the Subcommittee to relieve overcrowding in penal institutions :

  1. that CSOs be extended to district courts. This would provide the district court judges with an additional tool for sentencing. The necessary resources should be provided to strengthen the CSO Scheme;

  2. that the recommendation made in the Report on Research on the Effectiveness of Rehabilitation Programmes for Young Offenders (paragraph 114 of the Report) that a short-term residential programme should be considered for those girl offenders who were regarded as being in no moral danger be adopted. This would help ease the pressure on Tai Lam Centre for Women;

  3. that a more in-depth study be conducted on the feasibility of applying in Hong Kong the non-custodial options presently available overseas; and

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

III.Date of next meetings

11. The next two meetings of the Subcommittee were scheduled as follows :

  1. Monday, 1 December 1997 at 2:30 pm
    - to discuss on the Administration's response to the recommendations in paragraph 10 above; and

  2. Thursday, 11 December 1997 at 10:45 am
    - to discuss on the Administration's proposals to relieve overcrowding in penal institutions and to consolidate the Subcommittee's recommendations to be submitted to the Panel on Security for consideration.

IV.Close of meeting

12. The meeting ended at 12:15 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
5 December 1997

*other commitments