A delegation of six Chinese prison bureaucrats from the Hangzhou Municipal Justice Bureau, visited Justice Action on the 15th November. The delegates from the Zhejiang province, China were led by Deputy Director Mr Zhang Liansheng. They wanted to know about our operations, how we represent prisoners’ interests and improve the social and mental health of prisoners. They also wanted to exchange information and ideas, as well as to set up a friendly relationship.
JA described its unique position in being the voice for prisoners and forensic patients. Specific emphasis is placed on restorative justice as an alternative to prison, lessening isolation during imprisonment for prisoners through Computers in Cells and improving relationships with victims.
The Women’s Justice Network (WJN) joined us where the president, Kat Armstrong presented her work in improving the lives of women affected by the criminal justice system through mentoring. Kat statistically presented the rates of incarcerated females being 15 times the rate of males, and the WJN revealed a 7% recidivism rate for women, whereas the typical recidivism rate in the criminal justice system is 51% per year.
JA explained how it is independent and not government funded, instead supported by the social enterprise Breakout Media Communications. Restorative Justice was mentioned as an alternative to prison and aids resettlement back into the community. Mr Zhang understood the implementation of mediation (tiaojie) as means of reconciliation between all involved parties. Secondly, the concept of lessening isolation during imprisonment ultimately reduces recidivism and makes reintegration into society easier. This is achievable through Computers in Cells which provides the opportunity of communication between prisoners and their families, as well as making online counselling more accessible. Finally by offering ‘shelter, safety, social support and positive activity’ post-release it provides help for inmates to become positive contributors to society.
It was clear that all six Chinese prison bureaucrats from the justice administration of Hangzhou respected our presentation. They particularly focused their questions through an interpreter on how the state government approved many of these various reformative measures to ensure inmates are rehabilitated. They also acknowledged the intricacies of the reconciliation process and provided information about restorative justice measures whereby a victim and offender were all placed in the same room with a mediator, and all parties are able to voice their position in regards to the incident. Kat noted that this was particularly successful within Aboriginal communities in current pilot programs.
JA explained its ‘Computers in Cells’ campaign where prisoners can use online resources to communicate with family, obtain job and life skills, receive education and report complaints to relevant authorities. The ACT has had computers in cells for 8 years and is operating safety and effectively. Zhang Liansheng asked whether prisoners have unlimited access to the Internet and whether this would need prison staff’s approval. The delegates became attentive after we explained that Internet access is filtered through a centrally controlled server and the computers will have only white-listed websites and five email addresses available. Kat Armstrong further adds that online counselling for domestic violence offenders is imperative and family contact is also important in reducing recidivism.
The meeting ended on a positive note with the exchange of gifts, photos and laughs. A video record was taken, to be later posted on Youtube. The leader of the delegation Mr Zhang welcomed JA to be his guests in a visit to the Hangzhou prison system, and JA agreed to take up the invitation.
Delegation, JA & WJN