China: We're Reforming Forced Labor Camps Controversial program was said to be used against political activists By Evann Gastaldo, Newser Staff Posted Jan 7, 2013 2:42 PM CST 22 comments Comments China's newly appointed leader Xi Jinping gestures as he attends a meeting with foreign experts at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/ Ed Jones, Pool) (Newser) – China's first step toward the reform promised by new leader Xi Jinping: The country will reform its forced labor camp system, state media reported today. The long-standing, controversial "re-education through labor system" allows police to jail petty criminals for up to four years without going through the court system, and critics say it is unfairly used against dissidents. Media initially reported that the system would be entirely abolished, but those reports were taken offline and replaced with the reform announcement. "The Chinese government will this year push the reform of its controversial re-education through labor system, according to a national political and legal work conference on Monday," Xinhua reported, according to Reuters. The system has been in place since 1957 and includes 350 camps that house around 160,000 inmates. Human rights activists and experts hailed the upcoming reform, but one warns that the reforms could be light, maintaining the same system with "a somewhat milder form of administrative detention."