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Law change sought to ease prison overcrowding

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- A legislator is seeking a law change to allow more inmates to be eligible to serve their sentences in minimum security jails instead of the standard, severely overcrowded prisons.

Legislator Liao Cheng-ching said he has already come up with a proposal to have the related prison laws changed, and the move has received support from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and many of his colleagues at the Legislature.

The Kuomintang (KMT) legislator noted that most of Taiwan's regular prisons are seriously overloaded, with each inmate sharing much less than the minimum space of 0.7 ping (about 25.2 feet) as stipulated in the rules governing correctional facilities.

He said he expects the proposal to pass into law in the current legislative session.

The proposal would transfer more inmates from regular prisons to minimum security jails.

Currently two kinds of inmates may be transferred to minimum security prisons: those who are sentenced to less than five years in jail and those with more than five years who received commuted sentences due to good behavior.

Liao's proposal keeps the categories intact but expands eligibility: those who receive less than 10 years and those serving out terms of 10 years or more but whose good behavior qualifies them for commuted sentences.

The proposal also looks to have more opportunities for commutation of sentencing for well-behaved inmates.

According to MOJ statistics, there were a total of 66,106 inmates in all correctional facilities in Taiwan as of 2012, a number much higher (21.1 percent) than the designated capacity of 54,593.

The worst case of overcrowding is at the Kaohsiung Second Prison, which accommodated 55.2 percent more inmates than it should have in 2012. At the time, each inmate shared only 0.31 ping of space.

The second and third worst were the Taoyuan Prison and the Taipei Prison respectively, the former jailing 51.6 percent and the latter 47.6 percent more inmates than they should.

Apart from minimum security jails, the only correctional facilities that were not overloaded in 2012 were the Taitung Prison, the Green Island Prison and the Kinmen Prison, according to MOJ figures.

The MOJ estimated that if Liao's proposal is adopted, more than 1,400 inmates currently in minimum security prisons will have their jail terms commuted, and each year about 1,500 more inmates may become candidates for minimum security prisons.

The MOJ is also making a 10-year plan to expand its prison capacity.

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