중앙데일리

Amenity-filled foreigners’ prison draws criticism

사물놀이·한글 배워 … 감옥 맞나. 천안 외국인 전담 교도소 어제 개설

Feb 25,2010
Inmates of Korea’s first foreigner-only prison attend a Korean etiquette class at the correctional facility. The prison, opened Tuesday in Cheonan, South Chungcheong, offers other classes, including Korean language lessons. By Oh Jong-taek

At a prison in Cheonan, South Chungcheong, on Tuesday, 10 foreign prisoners gathered around in a circle wearing hanbok, or traditional Korean clothing.

“These are called beoseon - traditional Korean socks,” the teacher said as the “students” were busy tying bows on their hanbok tops.

This Korean culture class is just one of the many amenities available at the Cheonan prison, which opened that day. It is a prison for foreigner convicts - the first of its kind in the world, according to the Ministry of Justice.

At 413,257 square meters (4.5 million square feet), the facility includes 49 buildings. There are 238 joint cell blocks of 15.28 square meters each, as well as 120 solitary rooms of 6.48 square meters. The prison can house 1,230 convicts, though it currently holds only 854. Of this number, 591 are foreigners.

The facility had been a juvenile prison before its transformation. Since early last year, however, foreigners were brought in from jails around the nation.

“We brought in foreign prisoners from Daejeon and Suwon who couldn’t adjust to life in a Korean prison,” said Choi Yun-su, the prison governor.

Cheonan tries to put prisoners of the same nationality in the same joint cells, in which they can watch satellite television in their mother languages.

With its opening, the prison also created an “international cooperation division” and worked with embassies in Korea to better accommodate the prisoners, hiring nine guards who can speak different foreign languages.

The “culture house” at the center of Cheonan has a DVD room, traditional Korean culture room, and a special activities room. Around 10 prisoners can take traditional Korean culture classes, in which they learn how to wear hanbok and perform tea ceremonies.

There are two meal choices at the prison - Korean and Western food. An average meal per foreign prisoner here costs 4,260 won ($3.69). As Western food has more meat and flour, compared to Korean food with rice and vegetables, this is higher than Korean prisoners’ average of 3,430 won.

The ministry said this prison was opened because there has been an increase in foreign criminals in Korea as the number of expatriates in the country has grown to around 1.2 million. As of this month, there are 1,504 foreign prisoners in Korean jails, compared to 621 in 2006.

The prison has sparked criticism from the media and the industry, which say it gives special advantages to foreigners.

“Foreign inmates who served terms with me had better meals,” a 51-year-old ex-convict who completed his sentence late last year said. “Before providing special services to foreign inmates, the government must first improve the terrible prison conditions of Korean inmates.”

“We did not invest a lot more to open this prison and facilitate foreigners,” said an official at the Justice Ministry who declined to be named. “At present, DVD rooms and educational classes exist in other jails as well. The foreigner prison was opened with the aim of better facilitating foreign prisoners who are not familiar with Korean language and culture.”


By Hong Hye-jin, Cho Jae-eun [jainnie@joongang.co.kr]
Related Korean Article

해외 출생자 생일 현지시각 따르기로


이것은 버선이라고 합니다. 한국 전통의상의 양말이라고 볼 수 있어요.”

23일 오후 충남 천안시 성거읍 옛 천안교도소. 외국인 10명이 둘러앉은 가운데 한국 전통 문화 수업이 한창 진행 중이었다. 외국인들은 한복을 걸치고 어설프게 저고리 고름을 매고 있었다. 마치 주한 외국인이나 관광객을 상대로 한 ‘한국 문화 체험 행사’ 같았다. 하지만 이것은 천안 외국인 전담 교도소가 외국인 수형자들을 대상으로 연 문화 교육 현장이다.

법무부는 이날 천안 외국인 전담 교도소(옛 천안 교도소) 개청식을 열었다. 외국인 수형자를 전문 수감하는 세계 최초의 교도소다. 외국인 전담 교도소는 대지면적 41만3257㎡(12만5229평) 규모로 49개 건물이 있다. 여러 명이 수감되는 혼거실(15.48㎡) 238개, 혼자 수감되는 독거실(6.48㎡) 120개를 갖췄다. 수용 정원은 1230명인데 현재 854명이 수감돼 있다. 수형자 854명 중 591명이 외국인이다.

최윤수 교도소장은 “대전·수원 등지에 흩어져 있던 외국인 수형자 중 한국 교도소 생활에 적응하기 힘든 이들을 먼저 이곳으로 데려왔다”고 설명했다. 교도소 측은 국적과 문화가 같거나 비슷한 수감자들은 최대한 같은 방에 수용했다. 수감자들은 자국 위성방송 시청도 가능하다.

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