What could have been the nation’s first “prison museum” may never see the light of day because of the incessant buck-passing between Chiayi Mayor Huang Min-hui (黃敏惠) and the Ministry of Justice, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Lee Chun-yi (李俊俋) said yesterday.
Lee said that when he was the city’s deputy mayor, he recognized the historical importance of Chiayi Prison, which is why he launched an effort to turn it into a museum.
The Chiayi Prison is the last corrective facility in the nation to use the Pennsylvania system, which is a penal system based on solitary confinement, he said.
He said the museum project was divided into two phases: restoration and planning, and the first phase was completed in July 2011.
However, the Ministry of Justice’s Agency of Corrections was unable to fund the project and so the agency rejected it in September last year, Lee said
Lee said he met with Huang, a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) member, last month to try to convince her of the project’s significance, but they could not reach an agreement because the Chiayi City Government does not have the manpower or the budget for the project.
Huang has been very passive about the project and has never asked for his help to make a funding appeal to the central government, he said.
Abashiri Prison in Hokkaido, Japan, which is also based on the Pennsylvania system, attracts an average of 300,000 to 400,000 visitors annually thanks to successful marketing and planning by the Abashiri City Government, Lee said.
However, a lack of manpower to maintain Chiayi Prison means it can only be opened to the public at certain times, and the total number of visitors has remained at about 110,000 since the restoration project was completed three years ago.
The Prison, along with the Alishan Forest Railway, Alishan Forestry Cultural Park and the Art Site of Chiayi Railway Warehouse, represent a cross-section of Chiayi’s early 20th-century history and are valuable tourism resources, he said.
If the Executive Yuan was able to convert Chiayi Prison into a museum, the facility would become as iconic as the Abashiri Prison Museum, Lee said.
“It is a real shame to do nothing about such a unique tourist site,” he said.
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