Thirty students from Yan Chai Hospital Lan Chi Pat Memorial Secondary School took part in a new crime prevention programme on Wednesday that taught them what life is like behind bars. 

The programme, named “The Reflective Path”, was created by the Correctional Service Department to educate students about the criminal justice system in Hong Kong by learning first hand about “the price they pay” for crime.

It underwent five trial runs before its launch and is part of the Rehabilitation Pioneer Project, an initiative launched in 2008 “to disseminate to young people the messages of leading a law-abiding, drug-free life and supporting the rehabilitation of offenders” through talks, visits, training camps, forums and performances.

The Chinese name of the project, which is a pun on “The Silk Road”, led some to question the connection of the programme to the “motherland”.

Students in mock court. Photo: GovHK.

Students first engaged in the role-play hearing of common youth crimes  a mock court at the Staff Training Institute in Stanley, after which they were sentenced by the court. They then experienced being imprisoned at Ma Hang Prison, where they went to work, ate, and slept as a person in custody. This was so as to better understand the life of prisoners and the price they pay for committing crime, according to the government. A real prisoner also shared his experiences with the students.

Students experiencing life in prison. Photo: GovHK.

“Through experiential activities involving persons in custody, the department seeks to convey to young people the dire consequences of committing drug-related crimes,”  Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said at the launch ceremony on Thursday. Lai said such initiatives had helped to reduce crime across Hong Kong.

Lai (left) and the Commissioner of Correctional Services, Mr Yau Chi-chiu (right), visit a cell in the Special Unit at Ma Hang Prison. Photo: GovHK.

“We also hope to achieve the objective of community education through face-to-face sharing with persons in custody, which allows participants to gain a better understanding of correctional services as well as the meaning of rehabilitation work,” Lai also said.

Students sleeping at the prison. Photo: GovHK.

“Through the experience of the life in dormitory or isolation cells, they learn discipline and know how the prison life is bitter. We hope that in future maybe, [when they have to] make a choice, they will remember this experience and choose the right path,” said Choi Nam-hin, principal officer at the Correctional Services Department.

A Form 3 student who took part in the programme told Metro HK that the most memorable experience was being on the prison beds, which she said was harder than any she has ever slept on. Another student said that his legs hurt after cutting grass for ten minutes and that he will think twice before he acts after having a taste of what it was like to lose his freedom.

According to the numbers provided by the Police, 2270 teenagers have been arrested in the first six months of 2015.

In 2014, Hong Kong’s crime rate dropped by 7.1 per cent from the previous year with 936 cases per 100,000 people.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.