Hong Kong's prison for drug addicts

Abstract

NOTE: A step-sided valley in the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong is being transformed into a model prison - by drug addicts. The results being achieved by the addicts are spectacular, but the real value of the scheme lies much deeper. The following article written for theBulletin by the authorities in Hong Kong gives an account of the Tai Lam prison for addicts.

Details

Pages: 13 to 20
Creation Date: 1961/01/01

Hong Kong's prison for drug addicts

NOTE: A step-sided valley in the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong is being transformed into a model prison - by drug addicts. The results being achieved by the addicts are spectacular, but the real value of the scheme lies much deeper. The following article written for theBulletin by the authorities in Hong Kong gives an account of the Tai Lam prison for addicts.

A White Paper published in Hong Kong in November 1959 conservatively estimated the number of drug addicts at 150,000 to 180,000; it also stated that some experts closely connected with anti-narcotic work, either in an official or unofficial capacity, placed the total as high as 200,000 to 250,000. This means that, on a population estimate of slightly more than three million, the incidence of drug addiction is among the world's highest. On current prices, and taking the lowest estimate of the number of addicts, at least 170 million Hong Kong dollars a year (?10,625,000 sterling, or $29,824,560) is being spent on diacetylmorphine (heroin) and opium.

The magnitude of the problem is largely due to the fact that Hong Kong is a free port, possessing entrepot facilities designed to encourage the freest possible flow of regional trade. This freedom of movement, vital to Hong Kong's economic well-being, is being exploited by international traffickers in narcotic drugs. The problem is complicated by the fact that, in recent years, attempts by the Hong Kong Government to suppress opium smoking have resulted in traffickers and addicts turning increasingly to heroin, a drug much easier to smuggle and conceal.

FIGURE 1 Drug addicts in a typical "divan ". Such places are situated in tenements, and the operators rarely remain in one place more than a few days for fear of detection.

Full size image: 141 kB, FIGURE 1 Drug addicts in a typical

As in other parts of the world, addiction is most pronounced among the criminal element of the population, and between 1955 and 1958 the percentage of narcotics addicts among persons sent to prison rose from 46 to just over 60. There was an obvious need for a special prison for the rehabilitation of addicts, and the site chosen was at Tai Lam, 16 miles from Kowloon, where work had recently ended on a large dam. Close to the dam were well-built stone huts with asbestos roofs, which had been used to house workers; on an attractive headland a mile away were 14 bungalows built for the resident engineers. It was an excellent location for a specialized prison, and the first batch of addicts was moved there in November 1958.

FIGURE 2 Prisoners' barrack-blocks surrounded by lawns and trees. Forty or sixty prisoners sleep to a block, and all windows are left open at night.

Full size image: 122 kB, FIGURE 2 Prisoners' barrack-blocks surrounded by lawns and trees. Forty or sixty prisoners sleep to a block, and all windows are left open at night.

The prison accommodation is on a hillside, and consists of 15 single-story buildings, two of which are used as a hospital and tuberculosis ward, with a smaller building for the medical officer and staff. All buildings have their own flush system, and there is a communal bathroom with 60 showers. Reception office, kitchen, stores and workshops are situated some distance away on the floor of a valley below the dam.

The prison is divided into three progressive sections - the hospital, a light-labour section, and a full-labour section. The hospital is for prisoners with physical ailments and those suffering so severely from malnutrition that they cannot work.

The light-labour section provides useful but not too heavy work, such as gardening, for prisoners slowly regaining their lose health and strength.

Tai Lam prison can accommodate 680 prisoners, and is always full. More than 70% of the prisoners were convicted for possession of heroin. Most of the remainder had barbiturates, while a very few were found in possession of opium. (In Hong Kong, many addicts employ barbiturates as a base powder during the smoking of heroin because of their volatility. In August 1958 legislation was therefore enacted to place barbitone, phenobarbitone, and their salts and preparations under very stringent controls, the unauthorized possession of which is now a serious offence.) Admission to Tai Lam is not, however, restricted to men convicted of drug offences.

Records also show a close connexion between drug addiction and other forms of crime. In 1959, over 60% of all prisoners convicted in Hong Kong were on drug charges. Not all were addicts, however; many of them, particularly women, were drug carriers. Conversely, many prisoners convicted on charges having nothing to do with drugs are addicts. Many were once in decent employment, but have sunk lower and lower as more and more of their earnings went on drugs, finally taking to crime to obtain money to satisfy their craving.

FIGURE 3 A new intake of prisoners lining up for inspection.

Full size image: 141 kB, FIGURE 3 A new intake of prisoners lining up for inspection.

FIGURE 4 Indian medical officer attending seriously ill addicts in prison hospital. Most have tuberculosis. Less serious cases are given special diet and put on light duties.

Full size image: 172 kB, FIGURE 4 Indian medical officer attending seriously ill addicts in prison hospital. Most have tuberculosis. Less serious cases are given special diet and put on light duties.

Full size image: 281 kB

Most addicts are between 20 and 40 years of age. Very small numbers of teenagers have been convicted (in nearly all cases they were shown to have picked up the drug habit from parents or friends). Over half of the convicted addicts belong to the "lower classes " - that is to say, they are mainly manual workers paid by tile day - while between 30% and 40% call be described as "white collar" workers, though by the time they are convicted they may well have become unemployed, with consequent lowering of social status.

The predominant cause of addiction is association. Addicts try to induce others to use drugs became they believe that supplies will become easier if a large "market" is assured; pedlars of course are always on the lookout for new customers.

FIGURE 7 Tailors making uniforms for prisoners. They must of necessity work indoors, but the majority of prisoners are kept in the open air, working on building projects and gardens.

Full size image: 175 kB, FIGURE 7 Tailors making uniforms for prisoners. They must of necessity work indoors, but the majority of prisoners are kept in the open air, working on building projects and gardens.

Another important factor is the widespread belief that drugs can cure tuberculosis, coughs, pains of all kinds, piles, hernias, rheumatism, stomach ulcers and dysentery.

Before being sent to Tai Lam all addicts spend front seven to ten days in Victoria prison, Hong Kong, for the "withdrawal period ". Deprivation symptoms are not serious unless complicated by disease dangerous to life, and replacement drugs are not normally given. By the time they reach Tai Lam the addicts are becoming accustomed to facing life without drugs, but by no means all are fit for immediate employment. Constant use of drugs has sapped their resistance, leaving them easy prey to disease and malnutrition.

About 20% have tuberculosis, and the worst of these go straight to hospital for complete rest. The remaining TB cases are given daily treatment and special diet including milk, eggs and vitamins, and put on light duties, which means they are allowed to do very light work in the gardens.

In the physical rehabilitation programme the following considerations are given priority:

To free the prisoner from addiction in any particular field of indulgence;

To treat any disease complicated by addiction;

To rebuild physical strength and bring it up to normal standard.

Tai Lam is a minimum-security prison, which means it is a new experience even for those many addicts who have previously served sentences elsewhere. Forty or sixty prisoners live in barrack blocks, where the windows are left open at night.

There is no slackening of essential discipline, however, and the rules are insisted upon. As in other prisons, prisoners are allowed to talk, provided they do it quietly. So far no prisoner has tried to take advantage of the regime. Apart from knowing they are comparatively well off, prisoners regard their stay at Tai Lam as something more than just another prison sentence.

The prisoners' day starts with reveille at 6 a.m. Meals are at 7 a.m., 12 noon and 4.30 p.m. Lights out is at 9 p.m. Prisoners work from 8 a.m. to midday and from 1 to 4.15 p.m. with a ten-minute break every hour, during which they may smoke the three cigarettes allowed each day to all those who are fit or semi-fit.

From the start the rehabilitation programme has been energetic and positive, because it is felt that the provision of the right kind of work is the key to rehabilitation. Prisoners have been employed on afforestation on a large scale, and have planted over 200,000 trees. They have constructed forestry roads and paths, and have carried out various projects at Chinese villages which had neither the resources nor manpower to do the work themselves. Recently, following disastrous floods, they rebuilt dykes and constructed new bunds in ricefields. They frequently have to walk three or four miles to reach the work site.

At Tai Lam itself the prisoners have completely changed the appearance of their prison. When the first batch of convicted addicts moved in, the ground was ankle-deep in mud and the hillside bore the scars of erosion. Now the site is properly drained by concrete channels built by the prisoners, and lawns and young pines planted during the past two years give the prison a park-like appearance. The prisoners' latest accomplishments are the building of a 60 ft. by 30 ft. swimming pool and the turfing of a sports field

Every effort is made at all times to employ as many prisoners as possible outdoors, and on a typical day recently only thirty-three essential workers such as cooks, tailors and carpenters were indoors. To get maximum benefit from the sun and fresh air, prisoners work stripped to the waist.

As in all prisons, payment is nominal. Cooks receive 1.20 dollars a week, other workers 80 cents and hospital patients 40 cents (the Hong Kong dollar is worth 1 s. 3 d. sterling, and about 18 U.S. cents). Biscuits, chocolate and toilet articles are on sale at the prison shop.

The underlying theme at Tai Lam is a humanitarian approach to drug addiction. How far is it succeeding? It is too soon to compile reliable figures of recidivism, but of the 1,388 prisoners discharged during the first year of Tai Lam's existence, only 65 were again convicted. It has already been amply shown that addicts respond to conditions at Tai Lam by taking a new interest in life much more quickly than could be expected in a conventional prison. Bodily, most gain from 12 to 16 lb.

Changes in weight of typical prisoners at Tai lam prison, Hong Kong

 

Weight

 

Prison number

Sentence (months)

Date of discharge (1960)

On admission (lb)

On discharge (lb)

Gain or loss (lb)

2629 9
1 Jan.
101 125 ? 24 ?
2839 7
1 Jan.
83 ? 121 ? 38
2245 1
2 Jan.
124 139 ? 15 ?
2641 9
2 Jan.
109 ? 121 ? 12
2251 12
2 Jan.
117 131 14
2252 12
2 Jan.
102 114 12
2646 9
2 Jan.
119 124 5
2269 12
4 Jan.
104 118 ? 14 ?
3059 4
4 Jan.
96 ? 116 19 ?
2286 12
5 Jan.
111 123 ? 12 ?
2649 9
5 Jan.
116 ? 132 15 ?
2785 8
5 Jan.
109 124 15
2300 12
6 Jan.
94 114 20
2311 12
6 Jan.
119 141 ? 22 ?
2328 12
6 Jan.
132 134 2
2347 12
6 Jan.
105 124 ? 19 ?
2652 9
6 Jan.
97 111 ? 14 ?
2789 9
6 Jan.
111 ? 127 ? 16 ?
2791 8
6 Jan.
118 ? 125 6 ?
2658 9
7 Jan.
100 ? 124 ? 24 ?
2661 9
7 Jan.
110 ? 126 15 ?
2669 9
8 Jan.
107 ? 123 15 ?
2795 8
8 Jan.
100 120 20
2797 8
8 Jan.
116 ? 137 20 ?
2869 7
8 Jan.
120 137 ? 17 ?
2873 7
8 Jan.
103 127 24
3099 4
8 Jan.
118 ? 116 ?
-2
3100 4
8 Jan.
112 ? 120 7 ?
3101 4
8 Jan.
136 ? 141 ? 4 ?
2322 12
9 Jan.
103 123 ? 20 ?
2678 9
9 Jan.
106 ? 127 ? 21

The superintendent of Tai Lam prison wrote at the end of its first year: "Results have proved that hard, outdoor work can play a major part in getting prisoners into good shape again, and in helping them to forget their addiction. It has been proved beyond doubt that prisoners who work in the hills, walking long distances each day, improve and put on weight more rapidly than those on light labour.

"I am convinced that the three essentials for the speedy rehabilitation of drug addicts are good food, vigorous exercise in the form of work, and fresh air."

The Commissioner of Prisons stated recently: "We know that a large number of prisoners go out cured and determinednot to return to the drug habit. There are four full-time after-care officers following up cases selected from those most needing help, and it is upon the results of their work that we shall be able to assess the value of Tai Lam.

FIGURE 8 Prisoner due for release. During the time he was at Tai Lam he gained more than 14 lb in weight. He told the photographer, "I'll never come back to prison again. No more drugs for me."

Full size image: 326 kB, FIGURE 8 Prisoner due for release

"Meanwhile, we can say that the prison has brought hope where there was none before, and a real chance of a new life for those who previously lacked proper treatment. The drug habit is deep-rooted and will take years of education and a rising standard of living to eliminate. Tai Lam will play its full part."