Program helps ex-inmates find work

Updated: 2014-01-06 00:49

By CAO YIN (China Daily)

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More than 60 ex-convicts are preparing to set off for foreign waters in fishing boats as part of a program to help them get back to work and into society.

Over the next year, the group will spend months at a time working off the coasts of other countries, including Japan and South Korea.

It is the second time Chinese ex-prisoners have been given work placements with State-owned companies thanks to China Ex-Convict Aid, an NGO based in Beijing.

The project was launched in March 2012, and the first group consisted of about 10 ex-convicts, mostly from northern Shanxi province, where the NGO was originally based.

"We got good feedback from the first batch, and it encouraged us to extend the project across the country," NGO founder Wang Jie said.

The organization has a long-term cooperation agreement with an ocean shipping company and a State-owned aquatic product enterprise to help more former prisoners find jobs and reduce their rate of recidivism, he said.

"Many prisoners are treated with disdain when they go back home. Residents, even ex-convicts' family members and friends, in the residential areas look down upon them, which causes them to lose hope and become more prone to committing crime," he said.

But getting a job away from their homes can help them overcome the stigma, "which is why I developed the overseas work project", he added.

The project helps former prisoners return to society, said Wang Qianqian, who works at the NGO's Beijing headquarters.

She said working at sea puts ex-convicts in a more relaxed environment, and the overseas experience will also help them be accepted in their hometowns.

The program is open to ex-convicts aged 20 to 45 without disease or paralysis, she said.

Fu Guoqiang, 31, who was part of the first group, welcomed the project. Fu worked on a fishing boat that went to eight countries over the past year, including the Netherlands.

"I never thought I would work abroad," said the Shanxi native who finished his sentence for theft in 2010. "Thanks to Wang Jie, I realize my world can be larger and more colorful than in prison.

"I catch fish and pack aquatic products in the boat, and learn a lot about fishing."

Fu is now working full time and dreams of building a house in his hometown once he has enough money.

Despite the monthly salary of 5,000 yuan ($826), Zhang Cunzhu, 40, another ex-convict who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for intentional injury, isn't interested in the program.

"I have a family. I have to look after my mother and child, and my age doesn't allow me to do much manual work. It's bitter," he said.

Zhang now works as a clerk at the NGO's office in Datong.

As of October, there were 1.67 million convicts in community correction, 1 million of whom were later released, Zhao Dacheng, vice-minister of justice, said in November.

Wang Jie said authorities should be responsible for helping ex-convicts find jobs near where they live.

"But the authorities' power is not enough, so I joined China Ex-Convict Aid," he said.

He said most of the jobs they provide are in China, at places such as stone or cement processing plants. The overseas project is more suitable for the younger ex-convicts or those whose families give them up.

The organization, which was established in 2005, has provided jobs for almost 3,000 ex-inmates.

Wang said his team is making efforts to improve cooperation with prisons.

"The cooperation with authorities needs much more time and related procedures are complicated," he added.