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Prosecutors strengthen supervision over reduced sentences

2014-08-27 09:16 Xinhua Web Editor: Mo Hong'e

New measures to stem judicial corruption when granting parole or shortening prison terms were announced by China's top prosecuting body on Tuesday.

Under the new regulation released by the Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP), prosecutors will launch "full-scale investigation and verification" over a criminal's background if their sentence is reduced by a significant margin or they are placed on long-term parole.

Prosecutors will target those found guilty of corruption and crimes linked to mafia or terrorist activities.

Criminals who have committed serious economic crimes such as fraud, or other crimes with "severe social impacts" are also subject to the examination.

The authorities hope the move will strengthen prosecutors' supervision over rich and powerful people attempting to use their connections or bribery to have their penalties lightened.

Prosecutors will also focus on suspicious sentence reductions. They will check carefully if a prisoner only serves a short prison term before getting a commutation or if they are given frequent commutations or parole.

In China, criminals can have their prison terms shortened if they show an attitude of obedience or repentance in prison. They can also have reduced terms for "making important contributions." Such contributions include stopping others from committing serious crimes, reporting others' criminal activities, saving other people's lives, coming up with new inventions, or outstanding performance in disaster relief operations or accidents.

Applications to reduce a prisoner's sentence are submitted by prisons or law-enforcement and have to be approved by courts.

To prevent judicial corruption in granting sentence commutations, prosecutors will have more involvement in drafting reports and court rulings, according to the regulation.

The authorities noticed the rise of corruption in granting sentence reductions earlier this year.

A glimpse at the case of Shi Baochun, former head of a county-level land and resources bureau in Guangxi, reveals how the powerful and wealthy bribe their way out of prison sentences.

Instead of serving a jail term of 10 years for bribery, Shi was not only found living freely out of prison, but also flying across the country without restrictions.

Shi never spent a day behind bars following his verdict and only served time after a news report emerged on the Internet.

Shi's imprisonment was part of the SPP's nine month-long campaign to crack down on corruption in sentence reduction, which was launched in March.

Zhang Bencai, spokesperson of the SPP, said prosecutors nationwide have uncovered 711 prisoners who have bribed their way out of prison or bought commutation, among them 76 are senior officials.

During the crackdown, prosecutors also found lax implementation of laws regulating reductions and lack of transparency in court hearings, according to Yuan Qiguo, an SPP prosecutor.

Some courts did not set an exact timeline for the end of the remission of serving out of jails, and some criminals were not required to report to local community rehab centers after getting out of prison.

Yuan added that prosecuting authorities do not have enough supervision over the courts and enforcement authorities, leaving loopholes for deals to be struck, dereliction of duty and malpractice.

Yuan called for a quick revision to the current law regulating serving a sentence outside of jail for medical reasons as it even does not have a clear definition of "life-threatening" diseases, a medical reason when granting sick prisoners a chance to serve a sentence out of prison.

The SPP on Tuesday also released five cases involving law enforcement personnel who help prisoners get commutations, parole and serving a jail term out of prison for medical reasons.

In one case, Shi Jian, a prison warden in Jiangsu Province, accepted bribes from several prisoners and helped them obtain awards during prison time, which are the prerequisite of commutation and parole.

According to the prosecutor, Yuan Qiguo, 120 officials have been found to have helping prisoners get reduced sentences, parole and medical exceptions during the campaign.

"The violators include wardens, police officers, judges and even prosecutors," said Yuan. They have severely damaged judicial credibility, he added.

China's top court also issued new rules tightening the procedures for commuting sentences and parole in June. The rules stipulate that a court hearing is necessary when applicants for a commuted sentence or parole have been convicted of abusing power, organizing mafia-style groups or financial fraud.

Hearings are also required when procuratorates disagree with the courts or when the public protests, or if the remission application is based on a criminal's good deeds in prison.

Previously, criminals could receive a reduced sentence or parole without a hearing after administrative approval by the court.

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