JUSTICE SYSTEM OF TAIWAN: COURTS, DEATH PENALTY AND PRISONS

JUSTICE SYSTEM OF TAIWAN

The Taiwan High Court is Taiwan’s highest court. The Council for Grand Justice is in charge of interpreting the Constitution. Legal system: civil law system. International law organization participation: Taiwan has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; non-party state to the ICCt

The Constitution used in Taiwan is the supreme law of the land and contains 175 articles in the original text. The Constitution has been amended five times since its initial promulgation. The five amendments are made up of eleven articles that have been consolidated into a single text and is maintained as a separate portion of the Constitution. The term law according to Article 170 of the Constitution means any legislative bill duly passed by the Legislative Yuan and promulgated by the President. Articles 171 and 172 state that laws and ordinances that contravene the Constitution shall be null and void. See Article on the Government of Taiwan. [Source: Columbus School of Law <>]

Legal Professionals: In order to qualify as a legal professional in Taiwan, students need to finish four to five years of legal education at the university level. When students graduate from law departments, they get a bachelor's degree and can then pursue many different options. Students can take the national civil servant test and serve in government agencies or take the judicial test in order to be judges or prosecutors. Another option open to them is to take the national Bar examination to become qualified lawyers. <>

Reforms: The President of the Judicial Yuan is in charge of judicial reform. Reforming the following areas will pose a challenge: efficiency; accessibility; judicial transparency; judicial fairness, and judicial intergrity. Some steps taken to improve civil proceedings include alternative dispute resolution and contracting out legal enforcement. To expedite criminal proceedings, there has been expanded use of summary judgments and the introduction of a plea bargaining system. Other steps taken to improve the judicial system include the establishment of civil courts, specialized courts, and specialized judges. These changes are expected to increase the public's confidence in the judiciary. <>

Judicial Branch of Taiwan

The Judicial Yuan is made up of justices appointed by the president with the consent of the National Assembly. It is the highest judicial organization of the state and is responsible for civil, criminal and administrative cases as well as cases involving the discipline of public functionaries. The Council of Grand Justices serves as the main body with 17 grand justices according to Article 3 of the Organic Law of Judicial Yuan. The number has been reduced to 15 through Article 5 of the Additional Articles of the Constitution. The president and the vice present are to be selected from among the members consists of a president, the vice president, a secretary general, and a deputy secretary. The Judicial Yuan also has a panel of 17 justices. [Source: Columbus School of Law <>]

The Judicial Yuan has the following powers: 1) the power to interpret; 2) the power to adjudicate; 3) disciplinary power, and 4) the power of judicial administration Meetings may be held by the Grand Justices of the Judicial Yuan, and presided over by the President, to interpret the Constitution and to unify the interpretation of statutes and regulations. <>

1) The Power to Interpret The President of the Judicial Yuan presides over meetings of the Grand Justices of the Judicial Yuan held to interpret the Constitution to unify the interpretations of statutes and regulations. In recent years, the Grand Justices have exercised this function to the full extent playing a very important role as protectors for both constitutional order and people's rights. <>

2) The Power to Adjudicate: The Grand Justices of the Judicial Yuan handles cases concerning the dissolution of political parties violating the Constitution. From 1948 to July 20, 2001, 529 interpretations of the Constitution were rendered at the request of government agencies, individuals, judicial persons, and political parties. <>

3) Disciplinary Power: Cases concerning disciplinary measures against public officials are adjudicated by the Committee on the Discipline of Public Functionaries. Decisions by the Committee are final but re-adjudication may be available where there is a legitimate ground. Cases are adjudicated independent and are free from any interference because judges of the Courts and members of the Committee hold office for life and are considered to be above partisanship. <>

4) The Power of Judicial Administration: The President and the Vice President of the Judicial Yuan exercise the power over judicial administration. They have the power and the ability to develop a sound judicial system, increase the effectiveness of the judicial functions, improve the working conditions for the judiciary, and elevate the quality of the judicial decisions that are promulgated. <>

Court System of Taiwan

Taiwan has a three-tiered court system made up of the Supreme Court, the High Courts, and the District Courts. The Supreme Court makes up the top tier of the court system. The function of the Supreme Court in Taiwan is similar to its function here. It serves as the court of final appeal. It is made up of five civil tribunals and five criminal tribunals. The second tier is made up of the High Courts, which are established in the provinces or special regions. Each of the High Courts have several tribunals for civil and criminal trials made up of a presiding judge and two other judges. The third tier are made up of district courts which are the lowest courts located in counties or cities. These courts are usually presided over by one judge. However, there can be up to three judges on a panel on cases of major proportion. [Source: Columbus School of Law <>]

The Court system is governed under the "three-level and three-instance" paradigm where issues of facts are decided in the first and second instances and only issues of law are decided in the third instance. There is also a separate Administrative Court set up to and decide administrative cases. These Courts are run by a "one level and one-instance" paradigm where retrial proceedings may only be initiated if there are legitimate grounds. <>

Prosecution System: Taiwan also has a three-tiered prosecution system to coincide with the each of the three parts of the court system. All of the prosecution sections belong to the Ministry of Justice which is located under the Executive Yuan. The prosecution department of the Supreme Court consists of one prosecutor-general and a number of other prosecutors. The prosecution departments of the High Court has a chief prosecutor with several prosecutors. The prosecution department of the District court is also similarly structured with a chief prosecutor and a number of other prosecutors. <>

Court Decisions: Judicial authorizations are widely consulted even though Taiwan is a civil law jurisdiction. Court decisions generally only bind the case at trial. However, court decisions to become binding precedent when they are final judgments entered by the Supreme Court or the Supreme Administrative Courts. All other decisions made by all other Courts serve merely as references. <>

Many Taiwanese believe court decisions are influenced at least in part by politics. Trial of Chen Shui-ban, History

Corruption in the Judiciary in Taiwan

The arrest of three senior judges in 2010 spared debate over corruption in Taiwan. The Economist reported: “Rumours of corruption among the judiciary have long flourished in Taiwan. Yet the news on July 14th that three high-court judges and a prosecutor had been detained amid allegations that they took bribes to fix the outcome of a high-profile case, has brought public outrage to boiling point. On July 18th Taiwan's highest-level judicial official, Lai In-jaw, who is in charge of the island's supreme and lower courts chose to resign because of the outcry over the case. The government is hastily promising reforms. [Source: The Economist , July 22, 2010 \=\]

“The case is Taiwan's biggest judicial-corruption scandal in over a decade. It involves Ho Chih-hui, an ex-lawmaker with the ruling Kuomintang (now expelled from the party), who was convicted in 2006 by a lower court for taking kickbacks over the building of a science park. He was given a 19-year sentence. Following that, according to Taipei District Court documents, contacts of Mr Ho tried to bribe judges sitting in a higher court, in an attempt to buy his freedom. In May this year the judges did hand down a not-guilty verdict to Mr Ho, but on July 13th members of an anti-corruption task force stormed the homes and offices of the judges and prosecutor involved. The judicial officials could now each face a spell of ten years behind bars, if found guilty. Mr Ho is on the run. \=\

“For jaded Taiwanese observers the latest developments merely confirm long-held suspicions of graft in their insular and inscrutable judiciary. “The significance of this case is that it makes all the rumours a reality,” said Yang Tai-shuenn, a politics professor at Taipei's Chinese Culture University. “It will push the government to do something.” The country's president, Ma Ying-jeou, promptly decided that he needed to be seen to act. On July 20th he announced the formation of a new commission to battle corruption and vote-buying. Its 200 staff will enjoy police powers of search and arrest. “I am determined, absolutely determined, to create a clean government,” Mr Ma said. “Every public servant must understand that ethical principles cannot be violated or trampled on. I will not stand for a minority of corrupt officials destroying the image of government.” \=\

“In any case, complains the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and various experts, such a commission will be toothless as long as it is nearly impossible to sack bad judges and prosecutors. An act calling for such a mechanism has long been stalled in parliament.

Corruption in the Judiciary Under Ma Ying-jeou

Among the scandals that most affected the administration of Ma Ying-jeou was corruption case involving former Executive Yuan secretary-general Lin Yi-shih. In June 2013, Ku Chung-hwa wrote in the Taipei Times, “ This was because the verdict handed down by the three Taipei District Court judges on April 30 was a blatant attempt to protect a corrupt official and get him off the hook. Under heavy pressure from the public, the Special Investigation Division of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office appealed the sentence last month. In their legal brief, prosecutors said that the nation should not be turned into a haven for elected representatives to promote their own greedy interests while using the excuse they are “serving voters.” [Source: Ku Chung-hwa, Taipei Times, June 4, 2013]

“Indeed, the judges who presided over Lin’s first hearing believed he was exempt under the Anti-Corruption Act , because they said his lobbying actions had nothing to do with his official duties. This was even though he first served as the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) caucus whip and then was promoted to Cabinet secretary-general, after failing to be re-elected. Even more ridiculous was the judges’ decision that the more than NT$30 million (US$1 million) in alleged bribes were “gifts” to Lin and that the money should therefore be returned to him. Such a verdict is tantamount to setting a recommended price for lobbying by legislators. They might as well put up a sign saying “price for lobbying” on the entrance to the legislature, and maybe even offer discounts to people who have more than one thing they need the help of a legislator to “settle.”

Taiwan Brings Back the Death Penalty

In April 2010, Taiwan executed four people, the island's first cases of capital punishment since 2005 when the sentence became a sensitive political issue. Reuters reported: Four inmates convicted of crimes connected to a murder case were executed, the ministry said in a statement, following years of fractious debate that saw the ministry's chief quit in protest. "The justice ministry gave death penalty orders to the four people on April 28 and the order was carried out on April 30," the one-line statement said. Former Justice Minister Wang Ching-feng and Amnesty International have urged Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou to scrap the death penalty, which is widely supported. A further 40 inmates remain on death row. [Source: Reuters, April 30, 2010]

On the resignation of Taiwan's justice minister after failing to win support for her opposition to the death penalty, the BBC reported: “Wang Ching-feng had said she would not give the go-ahead for any executions. She added she would gladly die instead of any of the 44 inmates on death row, if only they got a chance to rehabilitate themselves. An opinion poll compiled after her remarks suggested three-quarters of the Taiwanese public supported capital punishment. [Source: BBC, March 12, 2010]

"I would rather step down than sign any death warrant," she said. "If these convicts can have an opportunity to rehabilitate themselves, I would be very happy to be executed or even go to hell in their stead." Her statement sparked passionate criticism, and a presidential spokesman said death sentences had to be "carried out according to the law'. "Any stay of execution has to have compelling legal reasons to be granted," spokesman Lo Chih-chiang said. Taiwanese actress Pai Ping-ping, whose daughter was murdered by kidnappers in 1997, was also upset. "Ms Wang has deeply hurt Taiwanese people's feelings. She is rubbing salt into our wounds by promoting her own beliefs," the Associated Press quoted the actress as saying.

For a long time executions were done by a firing squad. The last executions in Taiwan before 2010 were of two people in 2005. A total of 49 people died between 2000 and 2005. About 500 inmates were executed between 1987 and 2005. Nations with the most executions in 1995 according to Amnesty International were: 1) China (2,190); 2) Saudi Arabia (192); 3) Nigeria (95); 4) the U.S. (56); 5) Singapore (50); 6) Iran (47); 7) Yemen (41), 8) Russia (28); 9) South Korea (19); 10) Taiwan (16); 11) Jordan (12); 12) Vietnam (10).

Overcrowded Prisons in Taiwan

Cindy Sui wrote in the Taiwan Review, “Taiwan has seen a big increase in the number of inmates in recent years, in part because of a growing drug abuse problem and more drug-related convictions. The prison population increased 18 percent in the past 10 years, from 56,474 in 2001 to 66,693 as of the end of July 2011. The number of prisoners is about the same as that of countries with much bigger overall populations like Japan, France, Germany or the United Kingdom. [Source: Cindy Sui, Taiwan Review, February 2012 ><]

“Overcrowding is a serious problem for Taiwan’s prisons. A decade ago, inmates lived 10 to a cell, but the average now is 12 to 13 people per cell, according to Hsu and Wu. Group cells in Taiwan are usually either about 15 square meters or 25 square meters, while one or two person cells are about 8 square meters, said Agency of Corrections Director-General Wu Shyan-chang. He says that most inmates get about 2.3 square meters, although Hsu says the amount is actually a little less than that. Changhua Prison was built to handle 2,096 prisoners, but currently houses 2,649 “juvenile” inmates from age 18 to 35. “We are prisons. We can’t tell them ‘The prison is full. Come back later. We can’t take you now,’” Changhua Prison Warden Tai Shou-nan says. ><

“Hsu Hua-fu, a professor in the Department and Graduate Institute of Criminology at National Chung Cheng University in Chiayi County, southern Taiwan, says Taiwan’s prisons are functioning at 15 to 20 percent over capacity. “Few prisons are built because of the lack of land and money, and local residents not wanting prisons to be built near their homes,” Hsu says. Still, the prison expert says more such institutions are not the answer. In the long run, he says, Taiwan should adopt northern European models under which those convicted of non-violent crimes do community service or pay fines, rather than serve time. “I think if we keep building prisons, that won’t solve the problems. Instead, it will create problems. Alternatives to incarceration are better, such as community service, fines, or probation.” ><

“Instead of simply building more prisons like many countries opt to do, authorities have begun trying a different approach by promoting programs aimed at helping prisoners reform, thus reducing the chances of recidivism once they are released. One of the forces driving the reforms is the strong belief of Agency of Corrections Director-General Wu Shyan-chang and a number of prison wardens that prisoners can be helped to return to society as useful members rather than always being viewed as a danger to citizens or burden on the state. “I want to bring them back. If I can use our influence to reform someone, I’m overjoyed,” Wu says. Since 2003, the Agency of Corrections, which is in charge of Taiwan’s 25 prisons and 24 detention centers, has worked to reduce recidivism by encouraging prisons to offer classes including arts, crafts and music.” ><

Prison Life in Taiwan

Cindy Sui wrote in the Taiwan Review, “Most of Taiwan’s prisons require inmates to do as many of the chores as possible, with tasks ranging from cooking their own meals to cleaning, painting and other maintenance work. Prisoners also have the chance to put any specialized skills to use. For example, those with remodeling experience might help out with building repairs. While the work assists prisons in cutting expenses, it is also aimed at helping inmates feel useful and rehabilitating them. “This helps them feel that they’re not useless, that they can still do good things,” says Tai Shou-nan, the warden of Changhua Prison. “This gives them confidence. Once a person has confidence, there’s less of a chance of them doing bad things.” [Source: Cindy Sui, Taiwan Review, February 2012 ><]

“Offering classes to inmates is part of a bigger effort in Taiwan to regard prisons and detention centers as more than places to keep convicts away from society, a typical view of such facilities from the 1950s to 1980s. “In the past, not only were inmates given little to eat, but they were scolded and sometimes beaten,” Tai says. “Now they can take hot showers twice a week and are served meat, as well as fruit and even dessert. More importantly, they are treated with some respect. It is also common for Taiwan’s inmates to be addressed as “students” and for wardens to spend Lunar New Year’s Eve with them to show solidarity during what can be a difficult time for them. “Most of them come from problematic families,” Wu says. “By treating them this way and spending social resources on them, we hope they can feel the government and society care about them,” he says. “This will help them reform.” ><

“Taipei Prison, a medium-security prison located in Taoyuan County, northern Taiwan was built to house 2,705 prisoners, but currently holds 4,160 inmates. “It’s very serious. Each cell has 10 to 20 inmates,” Wu says. Even though Taipei Prison houses a number of criminals who have been convicted of violent crimes as well as repeat offenders who have been sentenced to terms of 10 years or more, prison staff report few behavior problems among inmates, Wu says. One recent afternoon, prisoners in the art workshops painted and made pottery, while those in the kitchen baked bread. There were at least 20 inmates in each workroom, but no more than one or two guards present to watch each group. The low number of guards is similar to that for other prisons in Taiwan. Wu says that the ratio of guards to prisoners in Taiwan is about 1 to 14, whereas for Japan, for example, it is 1 to 4. ><

“Hsu says one of the reasons why so few guards are needed in Taiwan is because most prisoners are convicted of non-violent crimes. More than 70 percent of Taiwan’s prisoners have committed drug-related crimes, mostly drug taking, or theft, he says. Still, the crowding situation means careful prison management has become increasingly important. For this reason, offering the inmates lessons in music and the arts also helps the staff, Tai says. “When the inmates are in a good mood, they behave better and that makes our work easier,” the warden says. A case in point is the Lunar New Year performance in 2011. With more than 2,000 inmates gathered outside at the same time, without chains or handcuffs, if problems had occurred it would have been difficult to control the situation, even with the 100 guards who were present, Tai says. The event went off without a hitch, however. ><

“Human rights groups say there is still room for improvement. Inmates sleep on mattresses on the floor and cells do not have air conditioning. In summer, when the weather is hot and humid, the problem of overcrowding makes their living conditions even more difficult. “They eat alright, but the living conditions are something we can’t resolve. Some prisons don’t have good ventilation, so it gets very hot,” Tai says. “In the summer, we remind our staff that inmates can easily get into fights because it’s hot and they’re in a bad mood when it’s hot,” he says. On the other hand, one advantage of having many inmates in a cell is that it reduces the chances of sexual assault, Tai says, adding that such occurrences are very rare. ><

“Some people, however, question the success of efforts to rehabilitate inmates. Lin Ren-de, a staff member in charge of administration and planning at Taipei’s Association for Victims Support, says classes are a good way to help prisoners lead a stable life inside prison, and might even spur them to change their way of thinking, but victims hope inmates will truly reflect on their misdeeds and try to compensate them and their families as much as they can. “If they’ve reformed, but haven’t faced up to the wrongdoings of their past, they haven’t really been corrected,” Lin says. ><

“Victims or their families receive part of the money from the sale of the goods made by prisoners. After deducting production costs, 50 percent of the profit goes to inmates, 25 percent goes to a fund for victims’ families, and the remaining 25 percent goes to the prisons to help them supplement the cost of operations. Taiwan’s prisons are also more transparent now than in the past, officials say. Cameras are installed throughout facilities, not only to prevent misbehavior by inmates, but also abuse by staff members. Thousands of volunteers, including members of the clergy, counselors, music instructors, singers, journalists and retired teachers, are also among the outsiders who are now welcomed in to local prisons to lend a hand.><

“The volunteers are much needed as Taiwan’s prisons employ few full-time counselors. One such group is the non-denominational Christian Prison Fellowship Taiwan, which is linked to Prison Fellowship International, a nongovernmental religious organization of more than 100 national prison fellowships. Ming C. Huang, a pastor with the fellowship, says some 600 volunteers from the group offer counseling to inmates, which can act as a form of crime prevention as it helps inmates understand the impact of the crimes they have committed. “Some of them seek forgiveness from the victims’ families and in some cases, the families forgive them,” Huang says. He adds that counseling has supported some inmates to finish their high school studies in prison and others to go on to college after they are released.” ><

Prisoner Rehabilitation in Taiwan

Cindy Sui wrote in the Taiwan Review, “Changhua Prison is perhaps Taiwan’s most unique prison in this regard and has the largest variety of educational programs for inmates, including weekly classes in drumming taught by renowned performance group U-Theatre, classical Chinese instruments, traditional glove puppetry, calligraphy and lantern making. The prisoners have built a fish pond in which they raise koi and tend the bonsai plants nearby. Ornamental structures of brick and straw made by inmates dot the workshop and display areas. [Source: Cindy Sui, Taiwan Review, February 2012 ><]

“In fact, the common areas do not seem like a prison as there are few guards around and the prisoners, dressed in white T-shirts, blue shorts and plastic flip-flops, move about freely during class time. It is hard to believe that the medium-security facility houses more than 2,600 inmates, including convicted murderers and rapists. One of the biggest differences in the programs he has implemented in Taiwan compared with those abroad is that local prisons make prisoners’ creations available to the outside world. Work by inmates, such as baked goods, paintings, porcelain, calligraphy and sculptures are sold at an exhibition held about once a year as well as advertised on the website of the Ministry of Justice. At one exhibition in Taoyuan in 2011, sales of prisoner-made goods reached NT$5.5 million (US$183,000). The buyers knew the items were made by prisoners, but did not mind, Wu says. “European and US prisons are not like that. There are few such opportunities there,” he says. ><

:Wu put many of his reform ideas into practice at Changhua Prison, where he served as a warden from 2006 to 2009. When he first arrived at the prison, there were already classes for making lanterns and straw figures. Wu then launched classes in sculpting, noodle making and playing traditional Chinese instruments, among others. The ideas were well received and current warden Tai Shou-nan carried the concept further when he took over at Changhua in mid-2009.”><

Taiwan Prison Drumming Class

Cindy Sui wrote in the Taiwan Review, “On a day in June 2011 at Changhua Prison, about 15 inmates practiced two hours of drumming in the yard. They were taught by drumming instructor Ibau from Taiwan’s famous U-Theatre. Despite the warm weather, the inmates practiced intently; first beating the drums slowly and eventually working into faster, more sophisticated beats. Although the students only get one lesson a week, they improve rapidly because they have time to focus on learning and they practice in their cells, drumming on anything they can, according to Ibau. [Source: Cindy Sui, Taiwan Review, February 2012 ><]

“One of the drummers, a 24-year-old man convicted of armed robbery who declined to give his name, says that while drumming might not be something he will do after he gets out, it has helped him. “It’s given me confidence,” he says. So far, U-Theatre has hired two former members of the prison troupe since their release. The men performed with the troupe at the Taipei International Flora Exposition in early 2011. ><

“Ibau, who has traveled to the prison from Taipei weekly since the classes began in 2009, says she does not discriminate against her students because of their backgrounds. “They really don’t want to be seen as prisoners. I tell them, ‘Everyone has wrongdoings, but because you’ve done something wrong, you have to pay a price. Since we’re fated to be together here, when you’re drumming, wish the people listening to the drumming well. So you need to do a lot of homework, including drumming, reflecting, thinking, returning to your origins and not acting impulsively like in the past,’” she says. In fact, the self-discipline and meditation required of U-Theatre’s Zen-style drumming is seen as a key element of the program, Ibau says. The drum teacher says the prisoners learn fast, but there are challenges to teaching them because of their past. “They’ve lacked a lot [of love, nurturing and good guidance] in their life, so now we have to make up for that,” Ibau says. ><

:The prison drum troupe has already performed at other prisons in Taiwan and was part of an outdoor concert in Changhua County during the Lunar New Year holiday in February 2011. That event also showcased the skills of 2,011 inmates, who danced in unison before the Republic of China’s Minister of Justice and other guests, including the inmates’ family members. The performance set a world record for having the largest number of prisoners dancing at the same time, while a video of the dance posted on YouTube received 39,423 hits in its first week. “It’s not only unusual in Taiwan, but in the world. To have inmates perform—it’s a big breakthrough,” Wu says. “By giving them a stage, they have confidence and with confidence they can reform themselves … It’s very important that we help them find themselves.” ><

“Wu is credited with driving many of the changes to Taiwan’s prison system, where the former warden has worked for 40 years. In 1985, he traveled to Japan to study the promotion of arts and cultural education for prisoners. In 1993, he began pushing for arts classes in Taiwan’s prisons, with the first programs offered that year in painting, paper cutting, calligraphy and brickwork at what is now Tainan Juvenile Detention House in southern Taiwan. ><

Pengu Maximum-Security Art Lessons

Cindy Sui wrote in the Taiwan Review, “At Penghu Prison, a maximum-security facility that houses around 1,900 inmates, most of whom are drug offenders, the art classes feature sand art, stone and driftwood carving, paper cutting, calligraphy and landscape painting. “They only paint or make sand art of Penghu’s scenery. They do this well even though they’ve never been allowed outside to see Penghu’s beautiful landscape. They’ve only seen it in pictures,” says Wu Chen-hung, warden of Penghu Prison. The artworks have proven popular among visitors to Penghu seeking souvenirs. [Source: Cindy Sui, Taiwan Review, February 2012 ><]

“The jail also offers music lessons in flute playing and a choir, but perhaps its most unusual class is an essay writing workshop set up in 1997 by a journalist, a Penghu native. Inmates have since published several collections of essays, which include reflections on their lives, their time in prison and even what they think about the books they have read. The prisoners donated all profits from sales of the volumes to charity. Given the prison’s location on the remote Penghu Archipelago, some 50 kilometers from Taiwan proper, few inmates get to see their families on a regular basis. The writing program helps them express their loneliness and other feelings, Wu says. ><

“While the overall aim of educational opportunities for inmates is rehabilitation, there are also practical reasons for the reforms. Despite the rise in Taiwan’s prison population, the number of prisons in Taiwan, and in some facilities the number of staff, has remained the same. There is simply no budget to build more prisons or hire more prison guards, officials say, which means that prisoners have to be managed in ways that alleviate behavioral problems and keep costs down.” ><

Reformed Prisoners in Taiwan

Cindy Sui wrote in the Taiwan Review, “Mr. and Mrs. Lai’s 24-year-old son was serving a 7-year term at Changhua Prison in central Taiwan for a robbery at knifepoint in which a man was injured. During the time he was at the medium-security facility, however, the couple say they saw striking changes in their son. “My son writes to me once a month now. He apologized to us for what he had done and told us not to visit so often if it tired us. I cried that day,” Mr. Lai says. “I apologized to him for not paying more attention to him in the past. Our father and son relationship is better now. We can hug each other. He’s more mature now. He even offers advice to other inmates.” The young man has since been transferred to a low-security facility due to his good behavior. [Source: Cindy Sui, Taiwan Review, February 2012 ><]

“Prison expert Hsu Hua-fu says Taiwan’s 60 percent re-offense rate is still quite high, however. He notes that only about 10 percent of local prisoners have access to the arts programs. At remote Penghu Prison, for example, the limited number of teachers and volunteers available to lead classes means that only about 130 inmates have access to art lessons and about 100 to the writing workshop each year. Agency of Corrections Director-General Wu Shyan-chang says the recidivism rate is relatively high because of the high number of drug offenders in jail. Even though inmates are denied drugs in prison, once they are released, they are tempted, he says. Nevertheless, prison officials and others say they see qualitative changes in many inmates, which are among the most satisfying results of the prison system reforms. ><

“Inmates like Jerry (a nickname), who is serving time in Changhua Prison for drug use, are an example. “At that time, perhaps I had a lot of pressure and didn’t have another channel to release the pressure so I started taking drugs. I was running my own used car shop,” he says. The young man has used the time in prison to learn English by ordering magazines such as Studio Classroom and listening to their programs on the radio, so that he now peppers his speech with English words and phrases. He also takes music lessons in a traditional bamboo string instrument.><

“After he gets out, Jerry plans to put his life back together again. “Perhaps I will try to restart my used car business, starting with buying and selling used cars and see if I can keep the business going,” he says. Even if some prisoners commit another crime after they are released, prison officials and staff say that if they can reform even a few, their work is worthwhile. “We’ll never give up [trying to reform prisoners],” Wu says. ><

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan), Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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