BEIJING - China is to abolish its controversial "re-education through labour" system, under which police panels can sentence offenders to years in camps without a trial, the official Xinhua news agency said Friday.
The move was "part of efforts to improve human rights and judicial practices" it said, and came in a detailed reform statement issued after a key meeting of the ruling Communist party that ended earlier this week.
The gathering, known as the Third Plenum, had also decided to reduce "step by step" the number of crimes subject to the death penalty, Xinhua added.
The deeply unpopular labour camp system, known as "laojiao", is largely used for petty offenders but is also blamed for widespread rights abuses by corrupt officials seeking to punish whistleblowers and those who try to complain about them to higher authorities.
Under the scheme, people can be sent for up to four years' "re-education" by a police panel, without a court appearance.
It was introduced in 1957 as a faster method of handling minor offences.
A 2009 United Nations report estimated that 190,000 Chinese were locked up in such facilities.
Life in the camps can vary widely, but many prisoners face extremely long work days manufacturing goods or doing agricultural work, the Duihua Foundation, a US-based rights group, said in a report.
Pressure for change in the system has been building for years.