The new Chuanbei prison opened in 2012. Inmates can learn a trade, live in a better environment and received psychological assistance: a first in China. For one prisoner, “our lives at the new facility are so different, it’s like the distance between the sky and the earth”. However, some think it might just be façade.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Caixin) – China is often accused of violating the human rights of prison inmates through forced labour, torture and executions.
The Chuanbei prison, in Sichuan, is an exception. The facility has become the venue of a series of experimental programmes for inmates: workshops, classrooms, a music hall, a recreation centre and a football field.
Each room houses 12 prisoners who share three enclosed squat toilets. The elderly and those in poor health or with mental health problems are provided with extra care and counselling in special units.
The Chuanbei prison opened in 1952. Its inmates worked in mines, steel mills and cement factories.
“The air was full of so much dust that the sky turned grey and all my body, apart from my eyes, was covered in dust,” said an inmate who worked in the old facility.
“Now our lives at the new facility are so different, it’s like the distance between the sky and the earth,” he added.
Chuanbei shut down its cement mills in April 2010. Two years later, the new facility opened. It was the first prison to reopen after the catastrophic Wenchuan (Sichuan) earthquake of May 2008.
Prisoners are still required to work in the prison but are taught useful trades.
Some observers are sceptical though, concerned that Chuanbei might just be a façade and that little or nothing will be done in other prisons.
In the past, China’s prisons made the headlines in world media for the systematic violation of human rights. Inmates are often forced to work in inhumane conditions without any protection or remuneration.
As result of mounting international pressure, China eventually began reviewing its prison system, adopting its first-ever legislation on prison and detention facilities in 1994.
Since 2000 the authorities have tried to remodel it, improving conditions and workloads for inmates.