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Chinese and Western Prisons: Similarities and Differences

NCJ Number
Corrections Compendium Volume: 31 Issue: 6 Dated: November/December 2006 Pages: 24-26
Gary Hill
Date Published
November 2006
3 pages
In an attempt to see how others might view Western concepts and methods of operating prisons, this paper examines the similarities and differences of Chinese and Western prisons.
In Western correctional systems, especially the United States, the dominant correctional ideologies seem to be deterrence and retribution. A “get tough” policy seems to be practiced in the criminal justice system of the United States. There are two different policy trends in China. Outside of prisons the policy has been one of being tough on crime, however within the prison system, rehabilitation is primary. China believes that people can be changed and the majority of prisoners can be reformed. In the area of prison architecture, similarities and differences are presented in the areas of prison size, prison appearance, housing units, and prison sites. In China, the concept of design capacity is not exact and not so valued when designing. In the United States, the design capacity of prison should be no more than 500 inmates, according to the American Correctional Association standards. In Western countries, there are significant differences between the maximum-security and minimum-security prisons or open institutions. Chinese prisons are fairly similar in appearance: tall, thick walls with barbed or razor wire and watchtowers. In Western countries many housing units have single cells or double cells. In China, the majority of housing facilities are dormitories where most of the inmates live. Lastly, Western prisons are generally located in areas near cities and towns or near major communities. In China, many prisons are located in distant and remote rural and mountain areas. Most of the differences detailed in this paper are defined by Professor Wu Zongxian, Director of the Institute of Crime and Corrections at Beijing Normal University. This paper is the first is a three-part series on Chinese and Western prisons.