Tue, Jul 17, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Nearly 10,000 inmates walk free in selective amnesty

STAFF WRITER , WITH CNA

Freed inmates walk out of the gate of a prison in Taichung yesterday.

PHOTO: CHAN CHAO-YANG, TAIPEI TIMES

A total of 9,597 inmates were released yesterday as a commutation statute to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the end of 38 years of martial law took effect.

It was the fifth time that the government has granted a sentence commutation, with as many as 25,670 prisoners benefiting, figures provided by the Ministry of Justice showed.

Sentence commutations were also carried out in 1971 to mark the nation's 60th anniversary; in 1975 to commemorate dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石); in 1988 to commemorate Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國); and in 1991 to mark the nation's 80th anniversary, the ministry's statistics showed.

The ministry said on Sunday that an estimated 10,943 inmates would be released, but it later lowered the figure, citing differences in the opinions of judges and prosecutors.

Among those who qualified for release yesterday -- the first day of the commutation -- 4,973 were drug offenders, 1,910 were convicted of burglary and theft, 690 were serving time for fraud and 69 were convicted of homicide.

The ministry's statistics also showed that 644 HIV-positive inmates were released yesterday.

By the end of the month, a total of 24,726 inmates will have been released under the commutation statute -- 2,791 of whom will need after-care assistance.

Minister of Justice Morley Shih (施茂林) said that while recidivism tends to be high among four groups of offenders -- drug abuse or trafficking, burglary and theft, fraud and violence -- it tends to be lower among pardoned inmates, compared with those who have served out their prison terms or are paroled.

Recidivism among those who benefited from the 1988 and 1991 commutations was 20.9 percent and 18.2 percent respectively -- far lower than an average of 46.9 percent among those who were released after completing their prison terms over the past 10 years.

Shih added that the justice ministry would step up cooperation with the Judicial Yuan and the Ministry of the Interior to help pardoned inmates belonging to the four groups in order to contain recidivism.

To ensure smooth implementation of the commutation statute, Shih said that the justice ministry's special coordination and emergency response center, which began operating on Sunday, will continue working till 5:30pm today.

"The center's staff already held a meeting on Sunday noon and will meet again at midnight to make sure that the preparatory work has been finalized," Shih said.

He and the two administrative deputy ministers visited various prisons early yesterday to inspect inmate release operations.

To prevent the spread of AIDS, Shih said the justice ministry would take special measures to assist HIV-positive drug offenders in rehabilitation.

Shih said the Taiwan Aftercare Association also sent staff to prisons around the country yesterday to distribute pamphlets on AIDS prevention, drug rehabilitation and the Methadone substitute program to these released inmates.

By location, Taichung Prison has the greatest number of inmates qualified for release yesterday, with 1,262; followed by Tainan Prison, with 603, and Pingtung Prison with 517.

Among the statute's beneficiaries is Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅), who began serving a 14-month prison term in April for violent conduct during a protest in front of the Kaohsiung District Court following the 2004 presidential election.

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