Prisoners being trained as taxi drivers to prepare them for life after release
Originally published at the South China Morning Post on June 18, 2014.
The taxi driver beams as he opens the door for his passengers, before sliding into the front seat.
But he isn't a real taxi driver, and they aren't on the road.
The 48-year-old, who gave the pseudonym Ah Geen, is an inmate at a minimum-security prison in Stanley, which was showcasing a new taxi driver training course yesterday that enables inmates to obtain licences upon release.
Eleven inmates from the Tung Tau Correctional Institution recently passed the first written taxi driver's licence test offered at a Hong Kong prison.
They were among 13 inmates who took the Correctional Services Department's new taxi driver training course, during which inmates attended classes for 48 days before taking the test.
"I worry about my future life and problems," said Ah Geen. "Once I knew that this taxi driver's course was being offered here, I signed up straight away … so that when I get out I will be ready for employment."
Ah Geen, who passed the test, will be released at the end of this month, after serving 16 months over a business swindle.
Fifteen of 16 inmates who took a 100-day travel agent assistant course also passed the test. The course taught skills such as customer service and operating travel agency computer programmes. It has been offered three times.
"I don't want to waste my days in here," said an inmate who completed the travel agent course and gave the name Ah Wei.
After serving 18 months in jail for triad membership, he will be released in July, he said.
For now, both courses are only offered at the Tung Tau institution.
They are part of the department's voluntary vocational training programme, which offers more than 30 courses at 13 prisons in trades that are in high demand.
It aims to help inmates find careers and reintegrate into society when they are released.
Ma Ka-kit, the department's manager for industries and vocational training, said the requirements for enrolment included serving a sentence that ends three to 24 months after the start date of the course.
Those who want to take the taxi course must also have a driver's licence.
"Our programmes are based on market demand and interest," Ma said, explaining that courses were constantly under review. "We aim to have more diversity."
Other courses offered include laundry service, multimedia production, programming, and welding and metalwork.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Prisoners in the driver's seat for life on the outside