Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung
Today’s conference, with the theme of “Evolution of Corrections”, is a timely opportunity to showcase the paradigm shift of correctional work and its contribution to the long-term sustainability of our society. It also serves as a platform for academics, community stakeholders and correctional practitioners from Hong Kong, the Mainland and overseas to share experience, expertise, inspiration and insights in correctional work of the modern day.
The renaming of the Correctional Services Department back in 1982 signified the start of the department’s expanding role, from a primarily custodial institution for offenders to become one focused more on correctional services for persons in custody. In other words, shifting more from retribution to rehabilitation and reformation. In the early 1980s, the Correctional Services Department was then tasked with the additional responsibility of managing a large number of Vietnamese boat people, which continued for about 20 years. In the 1990s, the department established a new Rehabilitation Division dedicated to facilitating offenders’ reformation and rehabilitation, taking a further step forward in its role in this regard. To date, the department has developed into an institution with multifaceted functions, including correction, rehabilitation, vocational training and of course, community education.
To ensure the safe custody of inmates under its charge, CSD adopts a “nip-in-the-bud” and “zero-tolerance” strategy in tackling disciplinary issues and security risks. It has strengthened its intelligence collection so as to curb illicit activities at an early stage. Search operations have also been stepped up to reduce contraband such as gambling tools, self-brewed alcohol, dangerous drugs and makeshift weapons. These efforts have yielded good dividends. There has been no successful escape cases in the past nine years in a row – quite a significant achievement by any standard. Prison disturbance has also been unheard of since 2000. Congratulations to the Correctional Services Department for your excellent performance on that score.
To strengthen support for the rehabilitation of inmates, the department has fostered closer partnership with stakeholders from different quarters of the community. It also provides market-oriented vocational training courses for inmates to help them reintegrate into the community after release as soon as possible. Its achievements in rehabilitation work have won public applause and support. From 2000 to 2014, the recidivism rate of local persons in custody has reduced from 39.9% to 25.9%, representing a significant drop of 14 percentage points.
Besides offering safe custody and rehabilitation services, it is important to note that the Correctional Services Department has taken up the relatively new challenge of promoting crime prevention by organising a series of community education activities for the young people to promote law-abiding awareness, a drug-free life and support for offender rehabilitation. In particular, I would like to stress that it has pioneered a unique and innovative programme known as “The Reflective Path” or, in Chinese, “思囚之路”, literally meaning reflecting on the path of prisoners. This also sounds exactly the same as the Silk Road, “絲綢之路” in Cantonese. Students joining the programme will have the chance to experience the life cycle of a prisoner – from being sentenced at a mock court owing to drug-related offences, to living in a vacated but real prison – followed by face-to-face sharing and reflections from a young offender. Public response to the programme has been overwhelmingly positive.
With the concerted effort of the department and their fellow law enforcement agencies, Hong Kong has earned the reputation of being one of the safest cities in the world. The overall crime rate in Hong Kong last year stood at 825 crimes per 100,000 population, which is the lowest in 45 years, or since 1972. And I was told it is actually the top three in the world. We have actually overtaken Tokyo as one of the safest places in the region. We take pride in this achievement and are thankful to CSD for the role it has played in our criminal justice system and its contribution to crime prevention in Hong Kong.
All correctional authorities around the world share the mission of protecting public safety and safeguarding law and order in their respective communities. Over the recent decades, the world has been facing unprecedented challenges in the areas of national security, cyber-attacks, cultural conflicts and so on. Looking ahead, concerted efforts from different countries and regions are required on a long-term and sustainable basis. Hong Kong, as a citizen of the global community, will join hands with the rest of world to tackle the challenges confronting us head-on.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung gave these remarks at the opening ceremony of Conference 2017 – Evolution of Corrections.