Chinese Labor Camps to be Turned into Drug Rehab Centers

By Shawn Dwyer 11/25/13

Communist Party vows reform in an effort to curb growing criticism over human rights

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An estimated 40 percent in laojiao system are drug offenders
Photo via Shutterstock

Bowing to growing pressure from criticism over its human rights record, China has announced plans to transform the country’s notorious re-education labor camps – known as the laojiao system – into drug recovery centers.

The move came after the Communist Party’s Third Plenum meeting in Beijing, where top leaders and policymakers vowed reform across a wide range of issues. Most surprising was the proposed change to their controversial labor camp system, which has been in place since the 1950s and has been used as harsh punishment for minor offenses. While some inside the laojiao system are political prisoners, an estimated 40 percent have been drug offenders. In one camp in China’s southwest Yunnan Province, which borders the infamous Golden Triangle--a major source of the world’s heroin trade--officials wanted their efforts to take root close to the source. “The key to the functional changing of the former ‘laojiao’ sites is to advocate a greater role for the local society, based on the existing infrastructure,” said Kong Shuhua, director of the region’s Justice Bureau, to the Shanghai Daily.

Drug addiction in China has skyrocketed in recent decades, rising from just 70,000 registered addicts in 1990 to 1.8 million in 2011, though the real number might be as high as 12 million. The country’s slow move toward democracy and increased wealth have been seen as major factors in the addiction explosion.

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.