YINCHUAN/HANGZHOU, Feb. 14 (Xinhua) -- Yang Qing (pseudonym) took off her prison uniform and put on a new dress for the first time in 16 years, then made herself up a bit in front of a mirror.
She was so excited to visit home that she hadn't been able to fall asleep for the past few days. The prison gate opened at 9 a.m. on Wednesday. Yang broke into tears when she saw her father.
This year, Yang will spend the Spring Festival, or Chinese Lunar New Year, with her family at home, the first time since she received a suspended death sentence in 2002 for murdering her boyfriend.
Yang's gathering with her family came after the Ministry of Justice recently renewed a holiday release process that was suspended in recent years by most prisons due to high risks, with the aim of helping prisoners reform themselves.
About 1,300 inmates from approximately 300 prisons across the country have been selected for release for family gatherings during the Spring Festival holiday, according to the ministry. Chinese citizens have a week-long holiday period for the festival, which falls on Feb. 16 this year.
At the Women's Prison in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, where Yang is serving her term, four others were also approved to temporarily join their families for the festival, the most important holiday for Chinese.
"I owe my parents too much. After returning home, I just want to be with them and chat with them," Yang told Xinhua before leaving the prison.
Prison authorities granted Yang a five-day release starting Wednesday.
Since mid-January, and after an application process and strict reviews, 31 inmates with good performance in Ningxia prisons were permitted to meet with their families, according to Cao Yi, director of the Ningxia Prison Administration.
Cao said the temporary release helps make inmates more active in reforming themselves and improve the reform process through education to help them return to society successfully.
To strengthen surveillance, prison authorities put positioning devices on the wrists of the temporarily released inmates.
"They cannot remove or damage the devices, otherwise we will receive alerts. In addition, the inmates need to report their status to prison authorities each day and cannot leave their approved location," said Ma Ning, an official with the Ningxia Women's Prison.
In east China's Zhejiang Province, 89 inmates met the requirements to leave prison to see their families this year.
The aging mother and young daughter of Cheng Hai (pseudonym) waited two hours early in the morning Wednesday to see Cheng, one of the 89 inmates. Cheng hugged the mother and daughter tightly outside the prison gate.
Cheng, 45, is serving a prison term of 15 years for financial fraud at Qiaosi Prison in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang. For the past seven years, he has spent the Spring Festival in prison. He thought he would spend his eighth in prison, too.
"I miss my family very much, especially during the Spring Festival," said Cheng. "When I began my prison life, my daughter was in primary school. This year, she will sit the national college entrance exam."
"In the past, they came to visit me, but thick glass separated us. This year, I can go to visit them," he said. "My family is the driving force for my reform in prison. I am really grateful to have such an opportunity to bring some comfort to them."
Twenty-one inmates were selected out of more than 300 applicants from Cheng's prison for the holiday release, according to Yang Weihong, a prison official.
The approved inmates must have good performance in prison and have served half of their prison sentences as key criteria for selection, he added.
In Shaanxi Province, inmates convicted of duty-related crimes, mafia-style crimes or drug crimes cannot apply for the holiday release. Those who are granted the holiday release are banned from drinking liquor, gambling or driving.
The Ministry of Justice has accelerated its efforts in justice administration reform. A basic requirement for prisons is to transform law-breakers into law-abiding citizens.
The ministry said pilot prisons were selected to carefully carry out holiday release programs for inmates. And the practice will be made regular and institutionalized progressively, according to the ministry.
"Traditional Confucianism has the concept of 'justice tempered with mercy.' The holiday release of inmates is a manifestation of the thinking," said Ma Zhiguo, a law professor at Xi'an Jiaotong University.
"This shows the progress and confidence in socialist China's rule of law culture," he added.
Yang's suspended death sentence was commuted. Three months later, she will be released.
"I am good at sewing. I hope to find a job and earn my own bread. That will be the start of my new life," she said.