Thu, Sep 19, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Losing sleep over jail conditions

By Liu Kung-chung 劉孔中

Normal sleep is affected by many factors, such as the body’s physiological, psychological and biological rhythms, and is also directly affected by environmental and climatological factors. Having an appropriate mattress and bedding can help eliminate a lot of the fatigue produced during the day and improve the quality of one’s sleep.

The most important component in ensuring a good night’s sleep is the bed. When selecting a bed, one should give careful consideration to its length and width, if it is smooth and flat, as well as whether it gives good support and is comfortable.

The bed’s height is also important, but there is no consensus on what constitutes the ideal height. In principle, it should be at least 40cm high, but even if the number is agreed upon, there is still the issue of how to define it.

Some people think the height should be defined as the distance from the top bedding cover to the floor, and that it should be between 46cm and 50cm. The reason for this is that the ideal height of a chair is 40cm and when a person sits on the bed, they compress the mattress, thereby reducing the bed’s height to about 40cm.

Furthermore, it is critical to have a bed that is raised off the floor because Taiwan is very humid and mattresses easily absorb moisture. In addition, dust, dirt, hair and other material on the floor attract bacteria, which are stirred up into the air as people walk around. Anyone who sleeps directly on the floor can inhale this dust, which will have a pejorative effect on their health.

These reasons firmly establish the physical and psychological importance of sleeping in a bed that is raised above the ground, which is why the US’ Standards on the Treatment of Prisoners approved by the American Bar Association in 2010 states that “[c]orrectional authorities should provide each prisoner, at a minimum, with a bed and mattress off the floor.”

By contrast, Taiwan’s prisons do not provide prisoners with beds, subjecting them to even worse sleeping conditions than those experienced by their counterparts in China.

In 2011, China announced article 28 of its prison building standard, which stipulated the size and height of prison beds.

According to this article, inmates’ beds should not be narrower than 80cm. It further states that bunk beds must not be in a room with a ceiling lower than 3.4m, single beds must be in rooms with a height of more than 2.8m. If there are cells on both sides of a corridor in the prison dormitories, the corridor must be at least 2.4m wide, and if there are cells on only one side, the corridor must be at least 2m wide, the article says. It also requires that the window-to-floor ratio not be less than 1:7.

Even in Japan — a country that is more densely populated than Taiwan — inmates receive far more humane treatment than in Taiwan. Japanese prisons provide 4.125m2 of dormitory space per person and 6.6m2 of individual cell space. In comparison, dormitory space in the US is approx. 2.75m2 per prisoner, while individual cell space is 7.39m2.

China has even higher standards. The average communal space per prisoner in medium-security prisons is 21.41m2, 21.16m2 and 20.96m2 in small, medium and large insitutitions respectively. In small and medium-sized high-security prisons, the space per prisoner is 27.09m2 and 26.80m2 respectively.

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