Prepare prisoners for life after release
Updated: 2013-12-12 09:43
By Cao Yin in Beijing and Luo Wangshu in Chongqing (China Daily)
Help in prison
Despite these measures, public antipathy to ex-convicts still exists, of course. Xiang Weiwei, a prison officer at Chongqing Women's Prison, who specializes in psychological counseling, recounted the story of one former inmate.
When the woman went to a local community center to update her registration card because she had changed address, the assistant behind the counter looked at her with scorn and repeatedly referred to her as "the prisoner", according to Xiang.
"She was very distressed. She called me on the phone and cried. She asked how she could still be positive and face life," said Xiang, who feels that such overt discrimination may result in the ex-inmate becoming disillusioned with life outside prison and bear a grudge against society - a perception that could lead them to re-offend.
Wang Hua, a senior prison officer of Yongchuan Prison, said the higher society's tolerance of former convicts rises, the lower the rate of re-offending will be.
"If society abandons the newly released, especially those whose families refuse to provide support, they are more likely to reconnect with their old criminal contacts, which obviously increases the chances that they will commit crimes again," he said.
Fu Benping, Wang's colleague, confirmed the importance of public tolerance, but stressed the importance of pre-release psychological counseling.
"Many inmates have low self-esteem when they are sent to jail. That causes some to despise themselves and give up. Sometimes it prompts them to hate society, which they believe has been unfair to them. They hate those they perceive to be rich and happy. They live in a dark corner of the mind," he said, emphasizing the need for assistance to help former convicts overcome unhealthy mental attitudes.
Xiang noted that inmates, especially those whose release is imminent, make greater progress when they acknowledge their problems and are willing to address them.
For many prisoners, especially long-term inmates, the outside world can be a confusing place. Many have never used the Internet or mobile phones, and social mores may also have changed beyond recognition, so helping them to learn about the "new" world is crucial, said Li Xiaojuan, head of the educational department at the women's prison in Chongqing.
A case in point is that of Chen Li (not her real name), who is scheduled for release in June next year. Chen was worried she would not be able to catch up with social developments. "After all, I have been locked up for a long time," said Chen, who was sentenced to 13 years for fraud. "The city now has six subway lines, which will require me spending a lot of time studying the map and getting to know the 'new world'."
"We provide them with vital information, such as job opportunities and news of affordable housing. With that help, they find it easier to find jobs and be accepted by society once again," said Li.
In addition, Li and her colleagues also invite volunteers and social workers to visit the prison, hoping they will offer their services once they gain a deeper understanding of the inmates' lives.
For Ma, it's crucial that problems such as these need to be addressed before inmates are released, because even the slightest hint of instability may cause them to go off the rails once again.
"Every prison should conduct a comprehensive evaluation for inmates set for release, ensuring their minds and bodies are in good condition," he said, adding that some prisons have experimented with comprehensive evaluations and the procedure will be extended in the near future.
However, in some prisons, the reduction of sentences simply requires inmates to pass examinations and gain a string of certificates, "which is not scientific," Ma said, pointing out that a convict's suitability for release should not be based solely on their exam performances.
"Instead, it depends on how capable the inmate is at controlling their mood and maintaining a positive attitude," he said.
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