China's system of jailing people in labor camps without trial is problematic, and reforms are being worked on, a senior judicial official said.
Jiang Wei, head of a committee on judicial reform, said the government has found widespread agreement among legal scholars and lawmakers on the need to reform the labor camp detention system, and an overhaul is being devised based on that consensus.
Jiang's comments were the latest indication the government is ready to revise the system - known as "re-education through labor" - that critics say ignores civil rights and is prone to abuse. Introduced in the 1950s, the system was meant for opponents of the communist regime.
Today, the system authorizes police to jail people for three years without trial; a fourth year can be added for bad behavior. While often used for drug abusers, prostitutes and others accused of minor offenses, it has also been used to silence government critics.
Jiang said that the system "plays an important role in maintaining social order," suggesting that the government is unwilling to consider getting rid of it. But, he said, society had "reached a consensus on the need to reform the re-education through labor system."
Public criticism over the system has been rising, most recently in August after a woman in Hunan was sentenced to 18 months in a labor camp because she demanded tougher penalties for the seven men convicted of abducting, raping and prostituting her 11-year-old daughter.
Tang Hui was released within a week following an outcry from intellectuals, bloggers and even state media.
Jiang was also asked about Liu Xia, wife of jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. She has been under house arrest in Beijing for nearly two years. Jiang responded that he had "no information to report."