Liang Pinghan, a researcher in criminal economics and a professor at the School of Government and Public Affairs at Sun Yat-sen University, gained public attention when he shared the results of a donation experiment he conducted in a prison. The recipients were two sick girls, one a stranger and the other the daughter of an inmate whose work in the prison workshop was tied to the value of their output and the amount of donations. Liang Pinghan found that the efficiency of all the inmates’ work improved as a result.
The experiment yielded more surprising details. When the inmates learned that the person they were helping was the daughter of a fellow inmate, they did not show more willingness to help due to shared empathy. Additionally, when the inmates were grouped based on the length of their sentences, those with longer sentences actually displayed less charitable behavior.
That was a experiment conducted nine years ago. In 2014, Liang Pinghan had an opportunity to conduct research in a prison in Sichuan province, China. He was unaware of the lasting impact the five-day research would have. After the inmates were released, it became difficult to maintain contact with them and evaluate the effectiveness of prison reform. Since then, Liang Pinghan has become increasingly focused on issues related to crime governance.
In Liang Pinghan’s view, society holds higher expectations for the deterrent and reformative effects of prisons, which has led to a certain degree of “overcriminalization.” In 2021, Shen Kaiju, the Vice President of the Administrative Law Research Association of the China Law Society, proposed giving high attention to the issue of “overcriminalization” and suggested that criminal law should only be involved when administrative penalties are insufficient. According to Shen Kaiju, this trend has extended to convictions related to online fraud, dangerous driving, and even in compensation cases involving land acquisition and demolition.
Through further research on crime governance, Liang Pinghan discovered that the effectiveness of “overcriminalization” is limited and consumes a significant amount of social resources. He noted that “when inmates are released, they also face the problem of unemployment, and their family members are also affected in terms of employment, public examinations, and political vetting. In fact, society is creating opposition for itself.”