China / Society

Prison uses video chat as part of transparency drive

By Li Wenfang in Guangzhou (China Daily) Updated: 2014-10-09 09:37

Prison uses video chat as part of transparency drive
An inmate talks with family through online video chat at Jieyang Prison in Guangdong province. Provided to China Daily

A prisoner in Guangdong province saw his mother for the first time in three years last month as he chatted to her over a video link.

His mother lives in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region and is too frail to visit him at Jieyang Prison.

The inmate, surnamed Luo, is among the first to benefit from a new remote meeting policy adopted by the prison in August.

Relatives who live too far away or who cannot visit the prison because they are ill or disabled can use video conferencing to keep in touch.

The pilot program, the first in the country, enables families to book a video session on the prison's website.

The initiative is part of efforts by the Guangdong Prison Administrative Bureau to adopt a more open and transparent approach using new technology.

Internet portals for all the prisons in the province will be up and running by the end of the year to deal with requests for information about the 130,000 inmates.

Jieyang Prison's website, the first of its kind in the country, went online on April 1. Material is divided into three categories - information for inmates, for their families and for the public.

The site has received more than 270,000 visits, including over 30,000 requests for information about 3,900 inmates.

Families access details about a relative serving time by typing in a username and password. They can ask about any change to the inmate's prison term or health, and even check how he spends his pocket money.

Information is also available on the processing of parole and sentence-reduction applications, awards to inmates and medical resources at the prison, and online reservations for visits can be made.

"Internet portals are an important way to make prison management more open and to promote fair and clean law enforcement," said Liu Fang, the bureau's director.

He said information would be released promptly.

One of the province's prisons, in Huizhou, is planning to release case-handling information that it shares with procuratorate staff on its website.

"In the past, prisons regarded information as secret and felt it should not be made public," added Liu. "Some information that should have been given in a timely manner was not released."

Yan Zhichan, director of the province's Department of Justice, said: "Information should be released to help promote sound communication and interaction between prisons and society and facilitate scrutiny by the public."

According to Ding Li, a law professor at the province's Sun Yat-sen University: "More open prison management helps to settle issues between inmates and their families. It facilitates communication and helps to reform inmates and integrate them back into society when they are released."

Zhou Chutian contributed to this story.

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