BEIJING, Jan. 9 (Xinhua) -- China plans to kick off a nationwide prison administration reform program this year after a five-year trial in 14 provinces, the Ministry of Justice said Wednesday.
The reform, initiated by the ministry in 2003, is aimed at modifying the country's prison administration method, promoting a community correction system and improving prison facilities, with the emphasis on protecting inmates' legal rights, said a statement issued by the ministry.
As a key part of the reform, China plans to relocate its 700-odd prisons across the country, from remote and isolated areas to places near the cities or busy traffic routes, by 2010.
New prisons have been built and some old ones renovated during the relocation drive and about 300 prisons have finished the move with facilities greatly improved.
The current layout of prisons developed in the 1950s have caused much inconvenience to the life of inmates and wardens and also made it difficult for families to visit them.
The ministry also plans to change the management of prison-run workshops.
The workshops where the inmates receive re-education through labor will be state-owned and run by the bureau of prison administration in local governments instead of the prisons themselves, in a bid to prevent the prisons from making profits through the workshops.
The trial on community correction will be expanded as well, said Wu Aiying, Minister of Justice.
Community correction, another important part of the ongoing prison system reform, is aimed at preparing convicted criminals for a smooth return to society and exploring new ways to educate non-violent criminals.
So far 5,865 communities in 25 out of China's 34 provinces have accommodated about 151,000 convicts and the reoffending rate remained at 1 percent, according to the ministry.
This year, the pilot provinces will be asked to select more communities, from every city and county, for the correction programs, Wu said.
China started its pilot community correction program in 2003. The program applies to convicted criminals sentenced to community service, those that had been given a reprieve, those on parole and medical parole, especially minors, the elderly, the ill and pregnant mothers involved in minor crimes.
"When I was convicted, I thought my life was done for. However, the monthly consultation at the community correction center gave me the confidence and courage to look ahead again," said Xiaoqiang, a 17-year-old boy sentenced to six months in prison with a year's reprieve for robbery.
He is taking part in a community correction program in Beijing's Chaoyang district and became one of the first five teenage offenders across the country to receive financial assistance of 1,000 yuan for education from a Hong Kong entrepreneur.
"I hope to get a college diploma in three years and find a job," he said.
The majority of convicts in China stay behind bars and only 15 percent serve their terms outside prison.