Prison Hostage Crisis Reveals Four Major Problems
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
February 13, 2015
Executive Summary: Kaohsiung Prison inmates recently took hostages. Yesterday morning, six
of the hostage-takers shot and killed themselves, ending the siege. This
alarming hostage incident lasted 14 hours, yet none of the hostages
were harmed. One could characterize this as fortunate. But it revealed
problems with the justice system and with prison administration. These
problems warrant justice system, legal system, and public concern.
Full Text Below:
Kaohsiung Prison inmates recently took hostages. Yesterday morning, six of the hostage-takers shot and killed themselves, ending the siege. This alarming hostage incident lasted 14 hours, yet none of the hostages were harmed. One could characterize this as fortunate. But it revealed problems with the justice system and with prison administration. These problems warrant justice system, legal system, and public concern.
The prison hostage incident was planned in advance by six prisoners. They took advantage of flaws in prison medical treatment procedures and prison visit procedures. They took prison administrators and “substitute civilian servicemen” hostage. They traded the hostages for long guns and handguns in the armory, leading to a tense standoff. This was the first time in Taiwan history that prisoners have taken a prison warden hostage. Heavily armed police surrounding the prison revealed just how grim the situation had become.
But despite the adverse circumstances, the prison system still had two points worthy of recognition. First, during the two hostage swaps, higher-level administrators and prison officials voluntarily took the place of lower-level administrators and substitute civilian servicemen. Their willingness to serve as hostages, evinced coolness and courage. It also made it easier for them to grasp the situation from within the prison. Secondly, once the warden was taken hostage, the other prison officials evacuated the facility in accordance with standard Riot Handling Protocol. They refused the captors' demand to open the gate leading to the outside. The prison authorities kept the situation confined. They prevented the six prisoner hostage crisis from spreading to the rest of the prison. They did not allow them to escape to the outside, and spared the public any anxiety.
The six prisoners eventually shot and killed themselves. Whether their actions were entirely voluntary, has yet to be determined. Cheng Li-teh initially told reporters that the prisoners "took their own lives”. Was their motive merely to protest the justice system and prison conditions? If so, was such an extreme measure really necessary? One has to wonder. In any case, six lives lost was six too many.
Several points surrounding the prison hostage incident must be thoroughly reviewed. One. Prison staffing and management issues. The six prisoners took advantage of prison doctor visits to take hostages. Prison management procedures are clearly inadequate. Kaohsiung Prison houses over 2,000 prisoners, but it has only 200 administrators. Obviously this is not enough. Security procedures are also inadequate. They allowed the prisoners to take hostages. Prisoners were able to obtain scissors that they uses during the ordeal. Clearly prison security procedures contain serious loopholes. A single misstep turned into a serious crisis.
Two. Politicians and businessmen who are serving time receive privileged treatment. The hostage takers were especially incensed at the privileged treatment accorded Chen Shui-bian, including the ease with which he was accorded medical parole. The medical, work, and legal rights of other prisoners are ignored. They feel this is extremely unfair. The DPP dismisses the prisoners' grievances as "mere excuses". Wen-Je Ko held forth about how the government should establish a single standard for all prisoners. In fact, such a single standard already exists. The problem is the Green Camp persists in applying pressure and breaking the rules. Other physicians have even provided Chen with medical records. What reason does Chen Shui-bian have to demand privileged treatment and house custody? The Green Camp applied political pressure in order to open prison doors for Chen Shui-bian. Does this really have no connection to Cheng Li-teh and hostage taking in order to get out of prison?
Three. The suitability of substitute civilian servicemen serving in prison. In recent years, substitute civilian servicemen have been used for more and more jobs. They may fill in during labor shortages. But prisons are high-risk environments. Substitute civilian servicemen have little real world experience. This puts them at risk. It is also likely to result in “nobody minding the store”. The hostage takers' primary target was the substitute civilian servicemen. They knew they were the system's weak point. US federal prison guards must have a four-year college degree. They must be at least 36 years old, or have served as law enforcement officers, parole officers, or corrections officers. Clearly substitute civilian servicemen should not work in prison.
Four. On scene negotiations, deployment, and protocol. When the incident first occurred, the media immediately linked it to prison riots in Central and South American hellholes. In fact, the hostage takers twice agreed to accept replacement hostages. Some "mob boss" characters even entered into negotiations with them. Clearly the incident exhibited local Taiwan characteristics. Clearly none of this was “by the book.” The Warden even read the prisoners' declaration. Some consider this inappropriate. But it may have help ensure the safety of the hostages by reducing the hostage takers' hostility. These "interludes" however blurred the question of who was really in control of negotiations. Also, some reporters used drones to film the prison from the air. The hostage takers mistakenly assumed that the police were attacking from helicopters, and fired into the air. The perimeter was clearly not secured. This unexpected move could easily have enraged the hostage takers, and provoked them to kill. Media coverage is important. But hostage safety must come first. At least it must not increase the burden on prison authorities and the police.
Thankfully the hostage incident has ended. But we must not forget people's anxiety during the confrontation. These flaws must be addressed. Otherwise many provisions will ring hollow. The next time such an event occurs, the outcome might not be so fortunate.
2015-02-13 01:33:12 聯合報 社論