The Cabinet approved yesterday a draft statute that would mandate reductions in sentences for over 25,000 prisoners for relatively minor crimes in response to a request by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
In a meeting with South African Archbishop Emeritius of Cape Town and 1984 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Mpilo Tutu April 24, President Chen issued a call for the Executive Yuan to study related details of a national reduction in sentences that would "give persons who unintentionally fell into the web of the law a chance for forgiveness and to start a new life."
Chen said this year would be appropriate for such a partial amnesty as 2007 marks the 60th anniversary of the February 28th Incident of 1947 and the 20th anniversary of the lifting of the martial law decree imposed for 38 years on Taiwan by the former ruling Kuomintang.
Commenting on the passage of the proposed "Statute for Reduction of Sentences in 2007" drafted by the Ministry of Justice, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) observed that Chen issued the instruction based on the presidency's constitutional power of mercy.
Saying that the draft statue marked "an important process in Taiwan's democratic transition and deepening," Su noted that "it is not the case that everyone who is imprisoned cannot be forgiven" and went on to say that "under certain conditions, we should give people who are first-time offenders or who could have paid fines but ended up in jail a chance to repent and start afresh."
The premier emphasized that the national reduction of sentences "does not conflict with the government's resolution to uphold social order and fight crime," noting that the rate of repeat offenders among persons who gained early release in previous national sentence reductions was far lower than the rate of recidivism for convicts who served their full sentences.
Su cited a study by the MOJ which showed that only 19.7 percent of the 31,056 persons who gained early release due to similar sentence reduction programs in 1988 and 16.2 percent of the 27,706 who were released early in the 1981 sentence reduction program became repeat offenders.
By comparison, 46.9 percent of the 31,083 convicts who were released on parole or after completion of their full sentences between 1997 and 2006 committed crimes afterward.
MOJ Department of Prosecutorial Affairs Director Chiang Hui-ming told reporters after the Cabinet meeting that an estimated 25,202 convicts would benefit from the sentence reduction program, including 10,072 persons who were serving sentences of one year or less and 15,130 who were serving sentences of more than one year.
Chiang estimated that between 8,000 to 9,000 persons would be able to obtain immediate release if the program is implemented on June 30, 2007 as planned.
According to the Ministry of Justice official, a list of crimes excluded from consideration for the sentence reduction program included murder, corruption, election fraud, organized crime, smuggling, drug trafficking, money laundering, financial crimes with sentences over one year, illegal weapons possession or trafficking.
In addition, the MOJ stressed that the 24 persons awaiting death sentences will not have their sentences commuted due to the gravity of their offenses and the "rigorous and strict" procedure adopted for the review of death sentences.
Chiang added that only people convicted of crimes committed before April 24, 2007, the date of the president's meeting with Tutu, would be eligible for the sentence reduction.