Jul 17, 2013

    China tests solitary confinement therapy

    WEARING his grey prison uniform, Cai Guoqing sat in the cell where he recently spent a week in solitary confinement.

    It wasn't easy, the 24-year-old recalled, adding: "I didn't think I'd be able to manage seven days."

    But his stint in solitary confinement wasn't a form of punishment - it was meditative therapy, introduced at Beijing Prison last August. It is being tested at the prison as a way to help inmates with their rehabilitation.

    Unlike his usual cell, which he shares with six others, Cai's chamber during the programme was a 10 sq m room with a bed, a chair and some calligraphy on the walls.

    Apart from sleeping and regular breaks for meals, his only task for seven days was to ponder three questions: what his family had done for him, what he had he done for his family and how his crimes had affected his family.

    For 15 hours every day, he was also given the chance to discuss his thoughts with a correctional officer trained in psychology and counselling.

    "I did what I was asked, I shared my feelings," said Cai, who was convicted of intentional homicide in 2011 and given a suspended death sentence.

    He likened the experience to conducting an operation in which he was the surgeon. Since the therapy, he said he has felt more at peace, along with great sadness for his family.

    "The therapy is based on using an inmate's own experiences to aid his rehabilitation," said Mr Cao Guangjian, the prison's director of psychological correction. Mr Cao said having time to sit in silence "allows the inmate to free his mind".

    Mr Cao said 40 inmates had volunteered for the therapy since its introduction.

    He added that the pilot programme was ready to be rolled out nationwide, but independent psychologists have raised doubts about the effectiveness of the therapy.

    Dr Ma Ai, a professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, agreed that such a technique can help ease inmates' mental stress, "but whether it aids rehabilitation is not clear yet".

    If volunteers do not re-offend after they are released from prison, then the effectiveness may be confirmed, he added.