Community rehabilitation gains momentum in China

Updated: 2011-12-03 17:33

By Yang Jie (

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"Community-based rehabilitation gives me a second life," said Zhu Jun, a smuggling convict who is now a volunteer at local community rehabilitation programs.

Zhu was a former manager of a shipping company based in Dalian, Northeast China's Liaoning province, and was sentenced to three years in prison and suspended for five years for his misdeeds. After serving one-year non-custodial term in the community, he was released for good behavior. It's the local community rehabilitation program that is helping him reintegrate into society in such a short time and with dignity, Xinhua news agency reported.

"I want to pay back society by setting up training centers, and education and settlement bases to help minor offenders," said Zhu, who has already sponsored five poor students with their studies while serving his sentence.

Zhu is not the only convict who benefited from community rehabilitation programs. Official statistics show that by the first half of this year, more than 720,000 minor offenders were committed to these programs. Of those convicts, only 0.2 percent relapse into crime while serving such non-custodial time in communities, a ratio much lower than among those who are put behind bars.

Minor lawbreakers who received sentences with reprieves, released on parole, or deprived of political rights but allowed to serve jail terms outside prison, may serve their time in communities, according to Chinese laws and regulations.

"Community rehabilitation programs strengthen the education and reform of convicts rather than loosen them," said Hong Daode, a criminal law professor at China University of Political Science and Law, in response to public security concerns voiced by some Chinese Internet users over lawbreakers serving sentences out of prison.

"In the past, minor lawbreakers who don't need to serve their term in prison were left basically unattended. Now with community rehabilitation programs, they are pooled together and can be better disciplined," Hong said.

Smooth transition

Liaoning resident Zhang Wantao is another beneficiary of community rehabilitation programs. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for assault. "I used to feel inferior to others, thus I often shunned away when coming across an acquaintance on the street," Zhang said, recalling his early days of medical parole after serving six years and eight months in prison.

Then community rehabilitation pilot programs were launched in Zhang's community and he became one of the first beneficiaries. To Zhang's surprise, he found that the assumed discrimination and isolation didn’t happen at all. Instead, he was working with ordinary people like community officials and volunteers and was treated as an equal. In no time, Zhang became adapted to his new life.

Acting as "psychological decompression chambers", community rehabilitation programs smooth the transition of criminals back to normal life after serving a long prison sentence by addressing their psychological alienation, says Xing Zhi, a law professor at Liaoning University in Northeast China.

Each and every step in the community rehabilitation is handled with great caution to avoid any discrimination or harm to the offenders, said Li Mengjiao, deputy chief of the justice bureau in Benxi, Northeast China's Liaoning province.

Fast expanding

China decided to pilot community rehabilitation first in 2003 in six provinces and municipalities, including Beijing. In 2005, the program was expanded to 18 provinces and cities. In February 2011, community rehabilitation was written into the Amendment (VIII) to the Criminal Law of China.

Currently, community rehabilitation offices are set up in 27 of the country's 31 provinces (municipalities and autonomous regions), 67 percent of cities and 55 percent of counties, said Wu Aiying, the minister of justice. Some 59,000 social workers and 379,000 volunteers are getting involved in the practice.

"Public support is indispensible to the development of community rehabilitation programs. We have been all along making efforts to break the myths of community rehabilitation to allow ordinary people to pitch in," said Li of Benxi.