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Shanghai prison skilled in art of stopping re-offending

2014-05-15 12:40 Shanghai Daily Web Editor: Yao Lan

Prisoners who attended art classes at a Shanghai jail have a zero percent reconviction rate on release, authorities said yesterday.

Art lessons have been offered to inmates at Tilanqiao Prison in Hongkou District since 1983.

And of the 130 art class members subsequently released, none have been convicted of crimes again, according to prison officials.

This compares with about 8 percent overall re-offending rate among prisoners released from Shanghai jails in 2008 over the five years that followed.

Of these, about 6 percent ended up behind bars again, according to the latest statistics from the city authorities.

Arts initiatives in the prison, which also include drama and learning musical instruments, can help inmates return to society successfully, said Wang Dongsheng, director of Tilanqiao Prison.

"Cultural activities... can motivate offenders to change," said Wang.

This was echoed by Liu Xiaochun, executive director of artistic troupe Xin'an — which means "new shore" — who also works with Tilanqiao inmates.

"Art in prison does help reduce the re-offending rate," said Liu.

"Successful learning and performance can build up self-confidence for inmates and enable them to return to society with new skills," he added.

To this end, laughter and applause could be heard at the prison yesterday morning when dozens of actors from the Shanghai Farce Troupe performed in front of hundreds of inmates to mark the beginning of working together on activities including joint performances.

Tilanqiao established an artistic troupe in 1986, with members performing music and plays for inmates there and at other city prisons.

"We have over 40 members now, but had over 60 at the peak," said Liu.

"One offender learned how to play the trumpet here and performed in orchestras on his release. He is now married and raising his family through teaching children the trumpet," he added.

Re-offending rates among former inmates Liu worked with is also much lower than the city average, he said.

Founded in 1903 by British authorities, originally known as Ward Road Gaol, Tilanqiao is the oldest prison still in use in Shanghai, housing 2,000 inmates.

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