The Justice Ministry will open a prison exclusively for foreigners in consideration of the increasing number of foreign convicts, officials said yesterday.
The prison will be available as early as next month and the Cheonan Juvenile Correctional Service is presently being refurbished to serve that purpose, said officials.
Though some local prisons, such as the Daejeon Correctional Service and the Cheongju Women's Correctional Service, have so far accommodated foreign inmates, a prison exclusively for foreigners is to be the first of its kind in Korea.
The ministry will allocate a maximum of 400 well-behaved convicts to this new prison, which will be equipped with some 24 professional staff members who are fluent in foreign languages including English, Chinese and Russian, said officials.
The Times asks whether Korean prisoners will thus face reverse discrimination, and looks at some of the issues foreign prisoners face.
According to a recent survey, trouble in a multi-racial cells takes place more frequently than in racially homogeneous cells, suggesting the necessity of a foreigner-only prison.
Human rights activist Hwang Myeong-ho, who conducted the survey on prisoners at Daejeon Correctional Center, said, ``Each racial group showed antagonism to others groups. In particular, disputes between hot-tempered Russian and Chinese prisoners, forming the largest racial group, were frequent.''
A lack of understanding about unfamiliar religions worsens the problems, Hwang said.
For instance, a foreign resident who practiced Islam faced complaints from his cellmates over frequent worshiping at the workplace, he added.
The government expects the prison will ease the difficulties faced by foreigners when they try to communicate with the embassies of their home countries or their families.
The reverse discrimination line comes from lawyer Sean Hayes:
``I can understand the government's feeling that increases in the number and diversity of non-Korean inmates has led to a strain on correctional institutes that need to be addressed via segregation within a separate institute. However, I fear that this could lead to a successful challenge at the Constitutional Court,'' Hayes said.
He said a Korean inmate has already filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission, claiming that non-Koreans are being given preferential treatment over Koreans.
The idea of a foreigner-only prison sounds progressive, and certainly a country doesn't need to accomodate the linguistic or religious needs of its foreign prisoners, though the Times article does bring up a good point: where will they find officers who speak the right languages?
Professor Park Kwang-seop of Chungnam National University said, ``Finding officers who speak Chinese, Russian and Arabic is still difficult, even though the number of prisoners from these regions has been on the rise.''