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Gender and Imprisonment in Hong Kong

Punishment and Incarceration: A Global Perspective

ISBN: 978-1-78350-910-2, eISBN: 978-1-78350-907-2

Publication date: 10 October 2014



This chapter aims to examine the ways in which gender has featured in Hong Kong’s prison system from its colonial origins to its contemporary form as a politically autonomous region of China. We conclude with a discussion on the reasons for these recent trends of imprisonment.


We draw from the concepts of patriarchy and colonialism to examine how gender has operated and shaped Hong Kong’s prison system. Our analysis is based on historical and contemporary government reports and other documents and secondary data.


Similar to other locales around the world, Hong Kong’s prison system was designed for and by men in its early colonial days, as expected given that most prisoners were male. Although a few prison administrators attempted to provide some programs for women and voiced concern over the conditions of women’s imprisonment to colonial authorities during the latter part of the 1800s, it was not until the 1930s that the first female prison was established. Since then, Hong Kong prison authorities have faced the challenge of a phenomenal and rapid growth in women’s imprisonment, which resulted in a historical reversal of shifting male prisoners to alternate accommodation to make room for their female counterparts.


This study is among the few which have examined how gender operates in the context of imprisonment in a colonial and postcolonial context. This chapter does this by examining how colonial authorities managed competing political debates about the purpose of punishment and cultural understandings of race and difference, and the limited recognition of gender and difference. It also examines how, in postcolonial Hong Kong, authorities have placed gender center stage and the reasons for this in coping and dealing with the growth in women’s imprisonment.




We wish to acknowledge our appreciation of the Hong Kong Correctional Services Department for their continued support of our research.


Lee, M. and Laidler, K.J. (2014), "Gender and Imprisonment in Hong Kong", Punishment and Incarceration: A Global Perspective (Sociology of Crime, Law and Deviance, Vol. 19), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 255-273.



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