The Chinese government this year is expected to begin considering whether and how to change the system amid an EU demand for human rights reforms before lifting an arms embargo, the New York Times reported Monday.
Police, rather than the judiciary, control the 300 so-called labor re-education prisons that house 300,000 inmates who are denied a right to a lawyer or a trial.
About 10 percent are political prisoners in the system that covers a wide range of infractions.
The internal debate comes in the wake of recent European sentiment against lifting an arms-sales embargo in June unless China makes "concrete" improvements in human rights.
Human rights advocates told the newspaper there would be no more meaningful gesture than reforming the labor camp system.