Self-respect, self-confidence, and self-subsistence, international students learned on a December 8 visit, are central tenets at the only women’s prison in Beijing. Beijing women’s prison, built in 1999, holds around 1,000 inmates.
CESL students with guards from the Beijing Women's prison
The average age of detainees is 45 and they are serving terms as long as life sentences or even death sentences suspended for two years. No prisoners have tried to escape; there have been no riots or other serious incidents. The quality of education is improving and less than 1% of inmates reoffend after release. Following a presentation by Deputy Governor Teng, CESL’s 27 international students were given a chance to ask questions.
"Are violent offenders held separately from inmates who committed minor offences such as theft, burglary, financial or economic crimes?” asked Manuel Veiga Aldemira
Beijing women’s prison only separates prisoners based on seven categories, including inmates who are sick, new, or about to be released. There is no separation of serious or violent offenders.”
"Please could you tell us more about the education programme for prisoners?” Asked Maria Zalazar
The prison has special classes for inmates who have not completed primary or middle school education. Prisoners who have already completed middle school are encouraged to take the National Self-Study Higher Education Examinations. Prisoners are encouraged to reform themselves by increasing moral standards and in order to help them reintegrate into society upon release, courses on how to use computers, tailoring and beauty are provided. Each year prisoners are required to complete 500 hours of training and each Saturday prisoners are given a cultural programme.
"Are there any foreign prisoners held here? What offenses have prisoners committed?” Asked Hamed Mosadegh.
There are currently more than 40 prisoners from 28 different countries. The majority are held for drug trafficking, smuggling and illegally trading ivory.
"What are the consequences if prisoners break regulations?” Asked Sarah Speierl.
If prisoners have broken the law, then crimes will be prosecuted accordingly. The prison marks prisoners’ performances. If regulations are broken then they will lose marks.
After questions, students were taken on a tour. Prisoners are held eight to a room, sleep on bunk beds and have one toilet per room. Furnishings are all soft pink and spotlessly clean. The extensive library collection is provided and continuously updated by the National Library. In addition to a TV studio, classrooms, and a computer room there is also a “cocoon bar”. The cocoon bar is to help prisoners relax, find new hope and reform.
Many students were surprised by the modernity of the prison. The focus throughout the visit being on education, rehabilitation and change, in order to help prisons reintegrate back into society.
The full report is available in Chinese here