A bill submitted by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Liao Cheng-ching (廖正井) on Friday would commute sentences to reduce the overcrowding in the nation’s prisons.
The bill, which is patterned after a previous commutation of sentences in 2007, was sent to the legislature’s Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee for review, and Liao hopes it will clear the Legislature this session. The bill would apply to offenses committed prior to May 20 next year. Death sentences would be commuted to life sentences, life imprisonment would be reduced to 20 years and other sentences would be cut in half.
The proposal would not apply, however, to convictions for corruption, vote-buying, manslaughter or sexual offenses that come with the death penalty, life sentences or prison terms of more than 18 months.
That would mean that former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who is serving a 20-year prison term for corruption, and former lawmaker Yen Chin-piao (顏清標), who is in jail for misuse of public funds, would not serve shorter sentences were the proposal to clear the legislature.
Offering lukewarm support for the bill, KMT Legislator Lin Hung-chih (林鴻池) said he “respected” Liao’s proposal and expected the committee would carefully review it.
Lin said he believed the public would accept a commutation of sentences for minor offenses or first-time offenders, but reducing sentences for major offenses would be a tougher sell. He said the feelings of victims of crime and their families needed to be considered along with the human rights of prison inmates.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Wu Ping-jui (吳秉叡) said his party has yet to discuss the issue. However Wu, who once served as a judge, said legislators should consider whether overcrowded prisons should be used repeatedly as a justification for commuting sentences.
According to the National Audit Office, 38 out of 49 penitentiaries in Taiwan are overcrowded, leaving inmates with an average space of 0.4 ping (1.32m2), lower than the 0.7 ping stipulated by the Ministry of Justice.
Academic Liu Kung-chung (劉孔中) said a survey by the Justice Ministry found that after the commutation in 2007, the reoffending rate was as high as 57 percent, with 90 percent of the repeat offenses involving drugs, burglary and public hazards.