Hong Kong prisons saw a decade-high average daily number of people on remand last year, as the head of the city’s corrections department rejected claims that a rehabilitation programme designed to deradicalise convicted protesters involved elements of “brainwashing.”

October 1 National Day protests Hong Kong Island Wan Chai Admiralty Causeway Bay tear gas
Protest scenes in Hong Kong in 2019. File photo: Aidan Marzo/HKFP.

A total of 829 people were admitted to the city’s corrections institutions last year over offences linked to “black-clad violence,” the Correctional Services Department (CSD) said on Thursday when it released its latest annual figures. The number fell by 16 per cent compared to 985 admissions in 2021.

Among them were protesters jailed for taking part in a riot, unlawful assembly, possession of offensive weapons and arson in relation to the 2019 anti-extradition bill unrest. Twenty-two people were admitted to prison last year under the Beijing-imposed national security law, of whom around 20 per cent were aged 21 or under.

As of the end of 2022, the number of inmates incarcerated over national security or protest-related offences stood at 522, marking a 26 per cent increase from 415 people in 2021.

New admissions

The CSD reported 13,246 new admissions last year, which included convicted persons, those held on remand and detainees. The figure decreased by 13 per cent compared to 15,311 people who were newly admitted in 2021.

Lo Wu Correctional Institution Prison Reception Centre
Lo Wu Correctional Institution Prison Reception Centre. File photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

The average daily penal population in 2022 was 7,613 people, while the average daily occupancy rate was at 67 per cent. The average daily number of people on remand was 2,666, the highest in a decade, which also represented an increase of 15 per cent compared to 2,316 in 2021.

The department revealed that it had plans to partially redevelop the Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre, after the number of adult male remands kept rising. The project, which aims to add 410 places to the facility in a bid to alleviate the overcrowding issue, was already approved by the Town Planning Board and is set to seek funding at the legislature in mid-2023.

‘Project PATH’

At a closed press conference on Thursday, Commissioner of Correctional Services Wong Kwok-hing rejected concerns that Project PATH, a rehabilitation programme launched in 2021 to help prisoners jailed over “black-clad violence” to “disengage from radical thoughts and violent behaviours progressively,” included elements of “brainwashing.”

According to local media, Wong said inmates joined the programme voluntarily, during which they learned about Chinese history, national education, psychological reconstruction, life planning and rebuilding relationship with their families.

Wong Kwok-hing CSD
Commissioner of Correctional Services Wong Kwok-hing meets the press on February 23, 2023. Photo: GovHK.

The corrections chief also described the response to the programme as “positive,” adding it successfully helped those in custody “correct their wrong values,” local media reported.

Education and vocational training

The CSD introduced new vocational training courses last year, including air conditioner maintenance and a diploma in computer graphics. The department said it was considering adding a safety supervisor course, creative media technology training and pastry cook training this year.

It also mapped out a plan to set up a rehabilitation college this year to allow adult inmates pursue full-time continuing education programmes.

“So that they can better equip themselves for smooth reintegration into society,” the CSD chief said.

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.