China will extend its two-year-old community rehabilitation projects from 6 pilot provinces to 18 this year, in an effort to cut the prison population.
"The projects help us change ideas from watching these people to correcting and helping them," said Wang Jue, an official with the Ministry of Justice, Wednesday.
Such services are imposed on five types of offenders: people under surveillance, probation, parole, temporary service out of prison and those released but deprived of political rights.
Despite the best intentions, Wang said that community correction, long common in Western countries, is struggling to integrate with the existing legal system in China.
"The community will blame on the new policy if those under community correction commit crimes again, which is possible," said Tony Cameron, chief executive of Scottish prison service, at the annual conference of International Corrections and Prison Association (ICPA) held here from Monday to Thursday. "China can start from small projects and give the public enough time to get used to it."
"Public fear" will probably be the biggest obstacle for China's community correction as it is for the United States. A stereotype pegs released convicts as violent and dangerous, said Daniel Lombardo, president of Volunteers of America Delaware Valley.
"Community correction projects need to involve the community from the very start and remind them that it is not only the state 's responsibility to keep the society safe," he added.
However, Chua Chin Kiat, director of Prisons in Singapore, believed community correction will go on well with the Chinese culture.
"In the Chinese culture people have closer relations among one and another than individualistic Westerners. Some family members, friends or even neighbors of offenders might feel their responsibility to offer a hand, which provides a base for community correction," Chua said.
New pilot projects will be located in north China's Hebei Province and Inner Mongolia, northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, southwest China's Chongqing municipality, Guizhou and Sichuan provinces, central China's Hubei and Hunan provinces, south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guangdong and Hainan provinces and east China's Anhui Province.
China first launched community correction programs in big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and three coastal provinces in east China in 2002. So far about 10,000 people have been through or serving the terms in communities.