Commissioner of Correctional Services Woo Ying-ming said that Hong Kong’s prisons need to be technologically “smarter,” but dismissed suggestions of an independent oversight body.

Woo said at a Thursday press conference that his department started investigations based on 81 complaints last year, compared with 123 cases in 2017. Woo said his department takes complaints seriously and there are mechanisms in place to address them.

Commissioner of Correctional Services Woo Ying-ming. Photo: GovHK.

“There are many methods inside and outside the department to make complaints, and the Complaints Investigation Unit… will investigate fairly,” Woo said. “The system is open and constantly improving, so at the moment there is no need for an oversight body.”

The Correctional Services Department Complaints Committee – an internal group that examines investigation results – went over 98 cases last year: five complaints were found to be substantiated and one was partly substantiated.

Asked about the relatively low number of cases found to be substantiated, Woo said that investigations must be evidence-based, and cannot only rely on the testimony of the complainant. He added: “All investigation bodies use this method, not just the Correctional Services Department.”

Last year, democracy activist Joshua Wong criticised the CSD’s complaints system as a “black box” because it was “people investigating their own people.” Wong made two complaints – one alleging that he was made to answer questions while squatting naked – but both were found to be unsubstantiated.

Joshua Wong (centre) criticises the CSD’s complaints mechanism. Photo:

After exhausting the CSD’s complaint and appeal mechanism, Wong sued the Secretary for Justice for damages in court.

At the press conference, Woo said the average daily penal population in Hong Kong was 8,303 last year, a slight decrease from the year before.

Woo said there were 4,265 disciplinary charges against inmates in 2018 – a figure he described as “high” – and there were 483 cases involving violent acts. There were 48 self-harm cases and two inmates committed suicide.

‘Smart prison’

Woo on Thursday also outlined a “smart prison” plan aimed at improving efficiency and protecting the personal safety of officers and inmates. Trial projects include a monitoring wristband, a “video analytic monitoring system” and a robotic arm that searches for drugs hidden in faeces.

The video system will analyse footage in real time and alert officers if inmates exhibit irregular or disorderly behaviour, such as self-harm or fighting. The wristband with monitor inmates’ health and location around the clock as well.

CSD press conference. Photo: GovHK.

The robotic arm is expected to replace CSD officers who have to search manually for hidden drugs in excrement.

The trial projects will be assigned for testing at the centre hospital of the Lo Wu Correctional Institution, four dormitories of Pik Uk Prison and the Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre.

Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.