Despite a widely publicised campaign by the Supreme People's Procuratorate to clean up the mainland's notorious police detention centres, a prisoner has died of starvation after refusing to eat for 49 days, according to state media. This follows 15 reported 'unnatural' fatalities earlier this year that sparked the management shake-up. These deaths were attributed to torture, beatings by guards and fellow prisoners, 'accidents' and violent suicides. Although the latest death resulted from passive self-harm, it is in essence no different. Starvation leads to a slow and awful death. There is no evidence of intervention by police to try to save the prisoner's life. Instead, it seems, they have blamed the man for refusing to eat. His widow says police prevented her visiting her husband in detention. Authorities at the detention centre should have asked her to visit and persuade her husband to eat. Whether the hunger strike by the 30-year-old alleged forger is attributable to the emotional trauma of incarceration or an unbearable sense of injustice, there is a strong suggestion of criminal neglect of a duty of care. If the procuratorate is serious about the cleanup it will order an investigation and hold whoever is responsible to account. Under the mainland system, Beijing can send out the right message, but it does not always penetrate layers of officialdom or change ingrained habits. Sadly, the mainland's 3,000 police detention centres are an example. In the face of pressure to solve cases with confessions, resorting to torture is so common and deep-rooted, according to deputy procurator general Jiang Jianchu, that it will be difficult to eradicate. Beijing pledged recently in a human rights action plan to do more to prevent illegal detention, torture and other abuses. This calls for fundamental reform to separate law enforcement from prison administration, such as handing control of detention centres to the Ministry of Justice. Mainland police no longer have any business running prisons or, for that matter, handing down extrajudicial sentences of lesser offenders to re-education through labour.