Sun, Jul 22, 2007 - Page 3 News List

Analysis: Commutation draws mixed reactions

By Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Nearly 10,000 inmates walked free on Monday as the commutation statute took effect. The commutation, intended to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the lifting of martial law, stirred debate over its possible impact on society.

Some police officers have said that a commutation would increase their work load because they would need to keep an eye on the newly released inmates in case of recidivism.

The bill proposed by the Cabinet originally called for an amnesty for inmates sentenced to less than one year in prison.

An additional 2,800 inmates qualified for the commutation after the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) version of the bill, which included inmates sentenced to up to one-and-a-half years, passed the legislature.

The Democratic Progressive Party caucus at the time panned the KMT, accusing it of tailoring the bill to benefit KMT Legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅), who was sentenced to 14 months in prison for violent conduct during a protest in 2004.

Minister of Justice Morley Shih (施茂林) said that among the additional 2,800 inmates, most were repeat offenders convicted of fraud, theft or drug-related crimes.

Shih said he was confident that the former inmates would not cause problems, citing research indicating that only 20 percent of inmates who receive commutations repeat crimes.

"They were taught skills in prison so they can contribute to society and help boost the economy," Shih said, adding that the commutation would save more than NT$1.5 billion (US$45.6 million) annually in prison costs.

Sinjhuang Police Precinct Lieutenant Hung Jiunn-yi (洪俊義) said recidivism was not high following the last commutation in 1991 because the booming economy made it easy to find employment.

"Today, it is already difficult for you and me to keep our jobs, let alone for released inmates [to find jobs]," Hung said.

Hung said he received a call from the father of a drug addict released under the commutation. The father wanted Hung to be put back in jail, because he was afraid his son would not be able to find a job and return to drug abuse.

"I can only encourage him to give his son a chance," he said.

James Hsueh (薛承泰), a professor of sociology at National Taiwan University and director of the Taipei City Government's Department of Social Welfare, said the commutation was not a problem in itself, but added that the after-care system was not sufficient to meet the needs of so many released prisoners at once.

"We do not have enough manpower to do this. We do not have enough resources to help either," he said.

Sandy Yeh (葉毓蘭), director of the Continuing Education and Training Center at Central Police University, supported the commutation but felt "it was carried out at the wrong time."

Yeh said commutations are only appropriate when there are plenty of job opportunities.

"If you want to release inmates just because prisons are crowded, why not just tell police not to catch so many criminals?" Yeh said.

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