The Chiayi Humanist Association (嘉義人文關懷協會) yesterday launched a series of arts and cultural activities at Chiayi Prison to urge the government to preserve the historic site.
The festival began yesterday and activities will be held at the colonial-era jail from 9am to 5pm every Saturday and Sunday until May 18.
Activities will include a painting contest and an exhibition of paintings by inmates and local painter Chen Lai-hsing (
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Entrance to all the activities is free.
"It is truly a pity that Chiayi's historic sites have almost all been lost over the past 40 to 50 years," said Chen Lai-hsing, whose paintings of the prison over the past three months will be displayed at the festival.
"When the association invited me to join the festival and paint a few paintings of the prison for the exhibition, I said yes without any hesitation. As a Taiwanese, I think I should do something to help protect the treasures that we Taiwanese people have."
Chiayi Prison was built in 1922. It is one of five prisons in Taiwan that was built in the Japanese style, the others being Taipei Prison, Taichung Prison, Tainan Prison and Ilan Prison.
After Tainan Prison was torn down in 1998, Chiayi Prison became the sole remaining Japanese-style prison left in Taiwan.
When in use, the prison could hold about 300 male and 30 female inmates.
Japanese-style prisons, such as the one at Chiayi, usually have three long cell blocks radiating from a central hub. This meant that a single guard stationed in the hub could monitor all the cells at the same time.
All the doors and floors were made of wood.
The prison has been all but unused since 1998, when the inmates and staff were transferred to other jails. There are two maintenance workers and 10 officials from the Ministry of Justice working at the prison. Also, there are four inmates staying at the prison who are about to finish their sentences.
However, the Ministry of Justice has said nothing about the future of the prison. As a result, local activists for the preservation of historic sites have been urging the government to turn the old prison into a museum.
Chen Shih-an (陳世岸), deputy director of the association, said that many activists are urging the government to do something to protect Chiayi Prison, since it is now the only Japanese-style prison left in Taiwan.
They said they hope the public can understand the importance of preserving the historic site by attending the arts and cultural festival.
"We hope that we can have as many as 3,000 visitors during the two months of the festival," Chen said.
"Many people may not be able to imagine the scene of visitors sitting at a table in a jail and drinking coffee. The more visitors we have, the more potential supporters we will have to work with to protect this old prison."
The prison's address is 140 Wai-hsin Road.