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Taiwan can learn from S Korea's private prison, corrections official says

Taiwanese officials impressed with Korea's only private prison during visit

Visitors to a prison in Chiayi don orange inmate outfits in 2022. (CNA photo)

Visitors to a prison in Chiayi don orange inmate outfits in 2022. (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan corrections officials have visited South Korea’s only private prison and said that Taiwan can learn from the experience.

Senior Department of Corrections official Wen Jui-hsiang (溫瑞祥) said he went to South Korea to inspect correctional facilities in December and while there visited the country’s only private prison — the Somang Correctional Institution, per CNA. Wen said that he had been curious about the facility, which has a reputation for rehabilitating inmates better than state-run prisons.

In a report published by the Korean Institute of Criminology and Justice in 2022, the private prison was described as being perceived as better at preventing recidivism amongst inmates, though it did not find significant statistical differences between the facility and state-run prisons in this area. However, the study noted the prison was more cost-effective than those run by the state, which Wen called a “win-win situation.”

In an article by the Korea Times published after Somang prison opened in 2010, the facility was described as a “hotel” in comparison to other prisons by inmates. Prison staff were similarly positive, and said they were focused on “rehabilitation and education instead of punishment and confinement.”

Wen said that upon entering the facility, he felt it was “relatively relaxed and peaceful.” He hoped Taiwan’s prisons, like Somang, would adopt a restorative justice approach that reduces repeat offending.

Wen also said he observed a focus on equality in the prison, and noted that staff and inmates are served the same meals. He also said inmates were regularly rotated through the dormitories to ensure no individuals were privileged over others, and to promote more personal interaction.

According to South Korean reports, there are roughly 95 people per 100,000 in prison in Korea compared to Taiwan’s 218 per 100,000, Wen said. He also noted that South Korea has 53 prisons for its population of 51.7 million, while Taiwan has 51 for its 23.6 million people, which are all state-operated.