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Laogai (simplified Chinese: 劳改; traditional Chinese: 勞改; pinyin: láogǎi), the abbreviation for Láodòng Gǎizào (勞動改造/劳动改造), which means "reform through labor," is a slogan of the Chinese criminal justice system and has been used to refer to the use of prison labor and prison farms in the People's Republic of China (PRC). It is estimated that in the last 50 years more than 50 million people have been sent to laogai camps.[1] Laogai is distinguished from laojiao, or re-education through labor, which is an administrative detention for a person who is not a criminal but has committed minor offenses, and is intended to reform offenders into law-abiding citizens.[2] Persons detained under laojiao are detained in facilities which are separate from the general prison system of laogai. Both systems, however, involve penal labor.



During the 1950s and 1960s, Chinese prisons contained large numbers of people who were considered to be too critical of the government or "counter-revolutionary". Prisons were organized like factories. However, many people arrested for political or religious reasons were released in the late 1970s at the start of the Deng Xiaoping reforms.

In 1990 China abandoned the term laogai and labelled the facilities as "prisons" instead.[3] China's 1997 revised Criminal Procedure Law brought an end to official laogai policy, but some prisons in the Tibet Autonomous Region and in Qinghai still practice forced labor and amount to a continuation of laogai.[4]

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