In a country where more than half of people are imprisoned, China has remained relatively generous in providing some forms of basic human rights to its people, and its jails have become increasingly important in helping them to exercise their rights.
Now, however, it has become increasingly clear that some of that money is still available for use elsewhere.
As the BBC’s Mark Lowen reports from Beijing, China’s prisons are being used to fund some of the country’s most controversial judicial decisions.
Last year, the Communist Party approved an amnesty law that gives up to 10 years in jail to people convicted of crimes, but it has also allowed people to avoid jail if they pay a fine.
It has also introduced new sentencing laws, which could see some people jailed for longer if they cannot pay their fine within three months.
In some cases, judges have also been given power to sentence prisoners to lengthy terms, a move that has sparked criticism from human rights groups.
In recent months, the government has begun to crack down on corruption and organised crime, and has launched a crackdown on corruption among state-owned enterprises, though the law is still widely criticised.
Some people have also fled the country, including prominent human rights lawyer Liu Xiaobo.
His supporters are calling for his return to China.
Many others have been detained and have not been able to return home, and the authorities have not yet publicly acknowledged their whereabouts.
The law has been criticised as a violation of China’s international human rights commitments, as well as a potential threat to China’s sovereignty and security.
Meanwhile, a series of scandals and other human rights abuses have forced the government to respond with tougher legislation.
Last month, for instance, the authorities were accused of using state-run media to incite public opinion against lawyers who had been detained, and to encourage protesters to turn out to support the jailed lawyers.
Meanwhile in China, there has also been a series that have raised questions about how far the government is willing to go in supporting the rights of its people.
Last week, an inquiry by China’s human rights watchdog into the death of a Chinese woman in detention was set to publish a report in March that criticised the way that some cases of alleged torture and mistreatment of detainees were handled.
That report has also criticised the government’s efforts to curb online media use, and suggested that the government may have been influenced by international pressure to do more.
In a recent interview with Al Jazeera, the Chinese government’s former foreign minister said that the country had an obligation to protect the rights and freedoms of its citizens, and said the government had the power to change laws if necessary.
Al Jazeera’s James Bays reports from China.