A prisoners’ rights activist has expressed concern that it may be more difficult for Hong Kong inmates to pursue further education from behind bars, after annual donations to the Prisoners’ Welfare Fund dropped from HK$4.31 million to HK$2.45 million this year.

Shiu Ka-chun, former lawmaker and founder of the prisoners’ rights group Wall-fare, said the drop in donations could hinder prisoners’ ability to pursue further study during their sentences.

Pik Uk Correctional Institution. File photo: Wikimedia Commons.

“Regarding the Prisoners’ Welfare Fund, it is really helpful to support prisoners’ further study. [A] significant drop in donations would affect their study plan,” he told HKFP.

The drop in donation figures was included in the 2021 Prisoners’ Welfare Fund’s annual audit report presented to the Legislative Council by the Secretary for Security on Wednesday.

The fund, administered by the Commissioner of Correctional Services, primarily helps cover the fees for education programmes for inmates. It also goes towards the cost of holding certificate ceremonies, as well as ad hoc board games and movie entertainment.

Shiu Ka-chun. File photo: Shiu Ka-chun, via Facebook.

The drop in donations to the fund comes as Hong Kong sees mounting protest-related prosecutions. Around 2,500 out of the 10,250-odd people arrested in connection with 2019’s pro-democracy protests have been prosecuted, many of whom were student-aged protesters.

The majority of the city’s high profile pro-democracy figures are also serving prison time or being held in custody awaiting trial over separate unauthorised assembly and national security charges.

No statistics breakdown

Separately, the Correctional Services Department (CSD) said it was unable to provide any data on how long detainees are being kept in remand when asked by a lawmaker on Wednesday.

“The CSD does not maintain statistics by the length of time on remand, on the average and maximum length of time on remand, and by the type of offence charged as well as the reasons thereon,” the department said, adding that the information was “not directly relevant” to its management operations.

Correctional Services Department staff standing outside the Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“The CSD has no plan to compile additional statistics on such breakdown of figures,” the department continued.

Lawmaker Pierre Chan had asked the department to give a breakdown of the amount of people in remand and the types of charges laid against them, ranging from less than one month to over three years.

Chan is one of only two lawmakers who are not pro-establishment left in the city’s legislature, after the entire democratic camp quit last November.

Photo: Pierre Chan via Facebook.

The average daily remand population in Hong Kong’s detention centres reached a decade-high last year following the 2019 protests and unrest, rising 37 per cent from 1,436 to 1 ,962 according to the department annual report released in April.

“The Department expects that the relevant figures will remain high and have a further upward trend this year,” the report read.

Shiu accused the department of disrespecting the public’s right to information: “According to our records, there are some detainees [who have been] remanded for more than two years. CSD has no reason not to disclose this information,” he told HKFP.

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Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.