Prison authorities across China have granted temporary pardons to 1,300 inmates, allowing them to spend five days of the Lunar New Year holiday at home with their families, according to local media reports.
All of the convicts selected for the programme had been carefully screened, The Beijing News reported, citing an official from the Shanghai Prison Administration.
Anyone convicted of a violent crime, or on charges linked to terrorism, drug dealing or organised crime was automatically excluded, while all of those chosen had served at least half of their sentences and had good behaviour records, the report said.
The scheme was designed to “encourage prisoners to repent and give them a positive message to help them change”, the official said, adding that it was a way for “society to teach and influence the inmates with affection”.
The Lunar New Year is the most important holiday on the Chinese calendar and is traditionally regarded as a time for family reunions.
In Shanghai, 10 prisoners will be allowed to go home on Thursday, before returning to their cells on Monday. Each will be fitted with an electronic tag on their wrists and they will be required to report their daily activities to the prison authorities every night.
An unnamed official from the Fujian Prison Administration was quoted by news website Thepaper.cn as saying that the 34 prisoners released in that province would be free to travel home unaccompanied and would not be required to wear their prison uniforms.
He did not say if the inmates would be required to wear electronic tags, but said they would be obliged to report their movements to the local public security and justice administrations.
They would not be permitted to leave their home counties, or be allowed to visit nightclubs, bars or any other entertainment venues, he said, adding that making contact with their victims was also strictly forbidden.
The province that will release the largest number of inmates is southwestern China’s Sichuan, with 260, while more than 100 people will temporarily walk free from prisons in northwestern Shaanxi, Beijing Youth Daily reported.
In Anhui province, eight prisoners selected for the programme are already back behind bars, after spending their five days of freedom at home during the calendar new year holiday, the report said.
A report by Legal Daily cited China’s justice ministry as saying that the programme, which is designed to help prisoners integrate back into society, could become an annual event in the future.
The scheme is not new, however. The Beijing News report said that a similar initiative was introduced in 1985, but was swiftly halted due to logistical and financial problems.
Wang Cailiang, director of Beijing Cailiang Law Firm, said the scheme was a positive move by Chinese authorities and could reap benefits.
“After spending such an important holiday back home with their families, some criminals might realise how much they value their freedom,” he said.