China's judiciary ready to look beyond jail

China's judiciary ready to look beyond jail

CHINA - Non-custodial penalties such as community service and correction programs will be increasingly considered as part of a major effort to protect human rights, Minister of Justice Wu Aiying said.

"Compared with imprisonment, community programs will allow offenders to serve a more productive sentence," Wu told China Daily.

During the sentence, offenders convicted of minor crimes will live with their families and be monitored in the community.

According to the Ministry of Justice, there are 697,000 offenders participating in community correction programs, an increase from 204,569 in 2009. Since the beginning of the program, communities have accepted 1.8 million offenders into correctional programs.

In November, China abolished the "re-education through labor" system — commonly known as laojiao.

Wu said there was no link between abolishing this system and the community programs.

"To further protect human rights and carry forward China's non-custodial system, we will continue to improve community corrections," she said.

In 2003, the Supreme People's Court, Supreme People's Procuratorate, the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Justice launched community programs in six pilot provinces, which spread to 18 provinces and regions in 2005.

In 2009, the programs were introduced nationwide.

In 2012, the revised Criminal Procedure Law clearly defined the manner in which criminals would serve sentences: confinement, conditional release or out of prison.

The fundamental purpose of community corrections is "to punish and rehabilitate offenders, prevent and reduce recidivism, and maintain social safety and stability", Wu said.

"We need to adopt a special law to standardize law enforcement and introduce regulations to further refine supervision and education for offenders included in such a program," Wu said.

In the meantime, justice departments will set up a platform to share information with other judicial organs, including public security, prosecuting authorities, courts and the prison system.

Electronic ankle tags are an option and training offenders in new skills to get them into the workplace is also an option.

In China, community corrections programs have been established in 342 cities, 2,824 counties and townships, as well as 40,176 communities, according to the ministry.

Canada, which has the highest non-custodial rate, has 79.7 percent of its convicted criminals in such programs.

Li Wei, a lawyer from the China Lawyers Association said, "After scrapping laojiao, it's possible more convicts will join in community corrections, which will bring practical challenges for justice officers to manage them."

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