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Scrutiny of sentence reductions, parole stepped up

By YANG ZEKUN | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-02-29 09:08
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Chinese authorities are intensifying scrutiny of sentence reductions, parole and temporary release programs, aiming to ensure fairness and prevent abuses in the criminal justice system.

Procuratorates — government agencies tasked with legal oversight — received over 300,000 applications for such measures last year, up 25 percent year-on-year.

The surge underscores the growing emphasis on ensuring such programs are applied justly and ethically.

"The fairness of changes in penalties is particularly important, drawing wide attention," said Hou Yahui, head of the Supreme People's Procuratorate department overseeing such matters.

Procuratorates play a crucial role in reviewing and approving applications for sentence reductions, parole and temporary release due to health concerns. Last year, they identified and addressed over 20,000 potential irregularities, including fabricated records and undue influence in the decision-making process.

In a case recently released by the top procuratorate as guidance, a 35-year-old male surnamed Tang was sentenced to 10 years in prison for drug trafficking by the Hengyang County People's Court in Hunan province in 2017, and fined 30,000 yuan ($4,200). He was transferred to Yannan Prison in Hunan to serve his sentence, which was set to end on Nov 19 this year.

In April 2022, the prison sought the opinion of the procuratorate in the city of Hengyang, which includes the county, regarding Tang's proposed parole. When reviewing the files, prosecutors discovered a declaration issued by a police station in Hengyang county in August 2019 confirming that Tang had no history of drug abuse. However, there was another declaration issued by the same police station in September 2021, stating that the earlier declaration was invalid.

When the discrepancy was investigated, prosecutors found that Tang had met with his brother multiple times during his sentence, and had asked him to obtain the document stating he had no history of drug abuse. His brother obtained it from the police station through improper means to facilitate Tang's parole.

Prosecutors also found that Tang was the main culprit in the drug trafficking case, had a history of drug abuse, and posed a high social risk, with a high likelihood of reoffending. The investigation into the documents also revealed issues at the police station, such as lax oversight and the improper use of official seals.

In October 2022, the city procuratorate declined to approve Tang's proposed parole. The irregularities found at the police station were transferred to local disciplinary and supervisory departments for further review.

The prison rejected Tang's parole application and personnel at the police station were subjected to disciplinary action.

To strengthen oversight, the Supreme People's Procuratorate has collaborated with the Ministry of Justice to standardize procedures for parole and temporary release and conduct inspections of key areas, regions and prisons to identify and address potential problems.

It has also invited representatives from various fields to participate in hearings on high-profile cases, promoting transparency and public trust.

"When handling cases with significant factual disputes or major social impact, procuratorates would actively invite representatives from different fields to participate, effectively preventing blackbox operations," Hou said. "Last year, the SPP directly organized hearings for three such reduction and parole cases."

It also carried out procuratorial inspections of detention centers in the provinces of Sichuan, Fujian, Guangxi and Shandong and established pilot programs for regular procuratorial inspection of community corrections facilities in nine provinces.

The top procuratorate conducted over 3,900 inspections nationwide last year, discovering over 60,000 problems and clues and investigating over 140 judicial officials for duty-related crimes.

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