The Chinese government is opening a five-month investigation into the 15 “unnatural” deaths of Chinese inmates that have occurred this year alone.
Seven inmates have been beaten to death, three have committed suicide, two died in accidents, and three other deaths are still under investigation, according to Xinhua. The total number was confirmed by a Supreme People’s Protectorate official on Monday. It was a surprisingly open move for the government authorities, who were reporting just five deaths a few weeks ago according to the BBC.
The investigation is the latest step in the government’s recent campaign to crack down on prison abuse. The Ministry of Public Security announced earlier this month that it would begin a three-month education program at prisons and detention centers.
However, this latest measure focuses not just on preventing prison abuse in the future, but on investigating the “unnatural” prisoner deaths of the past three years and the way they were handled by prison officials.
The campaign also seeks to shift control away from the police, who have been heavily criticized for the spate of prisoner abuse scandals in past years, to the Ministry of Justice.
For the next five months, the SPP will check all detention centers to evaluate the performance of police officers and record any instances of prisoner injuries. New camera monitoring systems will be installed to allow legal officials to supervise the detention centers.
Renmin University professor Chen Weidong told the China Daily that the review would be good for China’s prison system but that eventually, “management of detention facilities should be transferred to Ministry of Justice.”
Among the most controversial recent abuse scandals was the mysterious death of Yunnan inmate Li Qiaoming, which was officially reported by police as an accident in a prison yard game but later found to be the result of a prison beating.
In March, parents of a teenager held for murder accused police of beating him to death during an interrogation.
Overall, the 15 inmate deaths have occurred in 12 provinces across China.
Photo from People’s Daily.