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Women in Prison

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On February 27, 2014, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) convened a press conference on domestic violence in China, stating that domestic violence occurs in approximately one quarter of Chinese families and that nearly 10 percent of intentional homicide cases are connected with domestic violence. After years of struggle to address these problems, China’s first anti-domestic violence law became effective March 1, 2016.

Women in Prison in China
2003 71,286 4.61%
2004 75,870 4.85%
2005 77,279 4.96%
2006 77,771 4.97%
2007 78,334 5.00%
2008 80,951 5.09%
2009 85,167 5.25%
2010 90,322 5.45%
2011 93,051 5.67%
2012 95,770 5.83%
2013 100,584 5.9%
2014 103,766 6.3%
2015 107,131 6.5%
Sources: Dui Hua; China Statistical Yearbook; APCCA; Carson, E. Ann and Mulako-Wangota, Joseph. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Generated using the Corrections Statistical Analysis Tool (CSAT) – Prisoners at (03-Jun-15).

The need for such a law correlates with the rising number of women in prison in China, which has nearly doubled since 2000. Excluding women held in other forms of detention, the number of women in prison reached 107,131 in 2015. Domestic violence is a leading cause, and most women who fight violence with violence are severely punished with sentences ranging from 10 years’ imprisonment to death.

Dui Hua aims to increase dialogue and exchange on incarcerated women in an effort to promote the Bangkok Rules and to promote better treatment of women who are suspects, defendants, or prisoners. In December 2010, the United Nations introduced a framework for gender-specific corrections by passing Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules). Designed to meet the common physical and psychological needs of women in penal systems built for men, these rules form an integral part of women’s rights advocacy. In March 2016, Dui Hua released a Chinese translation of an e-course on sections of the Bangkok Rules regarding non-custodial measures, aiming to increase knowledge of the Rules among key officials. The translation is based on Penal Reform International’s e-course “Women in Detention: Putting the UN Bangkok Rules into Practice,” already available in English, Arabic, and Russian. (Photo credit: Tianfu Morning Paper)

Number of Women in Prison in China and United States, 2003-2021*

Sources: Dui Hua; China Statistical Yearbook; Asian and Pacific Conference of Corrections Administrators (APCCA); Carson, E. Ann and Mulako-Wangota, Joseph. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Generated using the Corrections Statistical Analysis Tool (CSAT) – Prisoners at (03-Jun-15).

Notes: Chinese prisoner data is as of the beginning of the year except for 2013 and 2014 data, which is mid-year. To allow for comparison, US prisoner data for each year is year-end data for the previous year. *Data from 2015-2021 is projected using historical data.


International Symposium on the Bangkok Rules

Symposium participants visit Lo Wu Correctional Institution in Hong Kong, February 27, 2014.

In partnership with the Centre for Comparative and Public Law at the Faculty of Law, University of Hong Kong; Renmin University Law School Center for Criminal Procedure and Reform; and Penal Reform International, Dui Hua hosted an international symposium on women in prison and the Bangkok Rules in February 2014.

The objectives of the symposium were to:

  • Increase transparency of the conditions in women’s correctional facilities worldwide;
  • Explore relevant issues in a comparative, international framework;
  • Promote the Bangkok Rules among institutional actors and decision-makers; and
  • Propose recommendations at the institutional and governmental level to improve conditions in women’s correctional facilities.

The symposium brought together 25 expert presenters from nine countries for three days of discussions on the issues facing women in conflict with the law. China represented the largest contingent, and international bodies such as the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner and the International Committee of the Red Cross were also in attendance.

While some research exists on the causes of women’s crime in China, Dui Hua has found only a few studies on the conditions and gender-specific policies at Chinese women’s institutions. As Executive Director John Kamm told The New York Times, there are some indications that women in prison fare better in China than in the United States, but many aspects of prison life remain unknown. With the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, a team at Renmin University of China Law School—led by Professor Cheng Lei, deputy director of the school’s Center for Criminal Procedure and Reform—carried out research in two Chinese prisons and three Chinese detention centers. Professor Cheng presented his team’s findings at the symposium.

Other topics presented at the symposium included violence against women, the children of incarcerated mothers, non-custodial alternatives, healthcare, international monitoring bodies, female correctional officers, juvenile offenders, and the situation of women in detention in Argentina, China (including Hong Kong), Norway, Thailand, and the United States. Click here to read the papers presented at the symposium.

The symposium ended with a visit to Lo Wu Correctional Institution, the largest and newest women’s prison in Hong Kong. Women represent nearly 20% of the total prison population of Hong Kong, one of the highest ratios in the world (6% in China; 9% in the United States). In early 2013, Hong Kong Correctional Services Department began taking steps towards implementing the Bangkok Rules.

Learn more about women in prison in Digest and Human Rights Journal