This time, let’s say that the son of a wealthy family killed an innocent bystander while drag racing on city streets and is up on a variety of charges, possibly resulting in the death penalty.
In an effort to protect their unfortunate son, the family asks you to be his substitute in prison. The sentence is guaranteed to be reduced to – oh, let’s say 3 years – and you’ll get paid for every day of it. What would you do? What would you charge?
This exercise in morality, justice, and finance has a longstanding tradition in China, where it’s called ding zui, or “substitute criminals,” but it largely went unnoticed in the country and was often regarded as an urban legend until the rise of the internet.
The above example was suggested by Chinese netizens determined to shed light on this alleged system of prisoner swapping. The photo above shows what certainly seem to be two different people, 20 year-old Hu Bin on the right enjoying his freedom, and “the Defendant Hu Bin” on the left awaiting sentencing.
That was in 2009, but recently, due to the high profile trial of Gu Kailai for the murder of Neil Heywood in which some believe a stand-in was used, the practice has been gaining international attention.
It seems that subbing in a convict is often done when wealthier members of Chinese society get caught with vehicular offences. One example reported by Chinese media cites that an unlicensed driver who killed a motorcyclist had paid someone $8,000 to do his time for him.
For a more clear idea on the market rates for this sort of thing: when a demolition company accidentally tore down the wrong building, the owner negotiated to pay a man $31 a day for each day he spent behind bars.
It’s said that the elites of China are in no rush to change this system since paying substitute criminals amounts to the same thing as imposing a financial penalty – justice and all that stuff can take a walk.
Although it totally undermines the entire justice system that society kind of relies on to function, some might argue that is helps to stimulate the economy by adding valuable jobs to the lower classes. It’s like a new kind of trickle-down economics: murder-down economics!