China, which has approximately 1.5million prison inmates, including some 19,000 juveniles, is borrowing ideas from other countries to reform its penal system.
"We have introduced psychological treatment into Chinese prisons, borrowing ideas from Singapore and Canada," said Vice Minister of Justice Fan Fangping at the annual general meeting of the International Corrections and Prisons Association (ICPA), which opened in Beijing Monday.
Most of the 670 prisons in China are now equipped with facilities and personnel to give psychological treatment to inmates, and some of them are working with universities and research institutes on treatment and research programs.
"This is an example of how China is combining its reality with advanced ideas from other countries," Fan noted. "Many countries in the world are trying to turn more criminals into law-abiding citizens through prisons and corrections, which is also the policy of the Chinese government. We have much to exchange and share with them."
China became a member of the ICPA in 2000. The organization, founded in 1999, has about 400 members from 80 countries and regions.
"China has been more and more important since it joined ICPA and we are talking about a growing number of issues openly with China," said Ole Ingstrup, president of ICPA, "I thought it was the natural time to come here when China proposed to host the annual meeting."
"As far as I know, China is doing things just like what we do in our countries, only named differently. For instance, the 'moral' teaching in Chinese prisons is very much similar with what we call 'cognitive skills' building," he added.
China started a trial project on community correction in 2002 in six provinces and municipalities, including Beijing, Shanghai and east China's Jiangsu Province. Since 2003, every province or autonomous region has started community correction in a pilot city.
"Other countries have done this work before us, and we have learned from their experience to improve our projects," Fan said. "The trial progressed smoothly and the projects have had good effect."
Meanwhile, the Ministry is thinking of updating the way it has categorized prisons for some five decades.
The ministry plans to divide prisons into three types: low security, medium security and high security, according to the harm their inmates might do to society, especially the violence of the crimes for which they were incarcerated.
Currently the government sorts prisons in two different ways. They are categorized by whether their inmates have long or short terms, and there are also separate prisons for men and women and education centers for juveniles.
The ministry is still working on detailed plans for the new categorization policy while adjusting the standards to evaluate the effect of correction.
"We will continue exchanging information and working with our foreign counterparts in an effort to improve the correction quality," Fan said.
More than 140 foreign researchers and officials are attending the conference, during which they will visit four Chinese prisons.