SAN FRANCISCO (August 29, 2012) – Twenty-two years ago, on August 29, 1990, China made a strong commitment to improving the lives of young people by signing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. China ratified the convention in March 1992, and, in March of this year, the country passed revisions to the Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) incorporating for the first time a section on juveniles. While the US has signed but not ratified this Convention, the country moved towards this direction by banning mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles in June.
In less than two weeks, Dui Hua will hold its third Juvenile Justice Expert Exchange with China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC), pushing forward more reforms to realize the goals of the Convention. From September 9 to 16, seven Chinese juvenile judges will visit three jurisdictions in the Bay Area, California: San Mateo, San Francisco, and Santa Clara.
The delegation will first spend three days immersed in San Mateo, highlighting the independent yet collaborative role of the probation department in the entire juvenile system, with a special focus on divisionary services. “Juvenile judges generally recognize that minors who commit crimes are more likely to be rehabilitated with proper intervention and appropriate services than adults because of their youth,” says Judge Elizabeth Lee of San Mateo County, a participant in the exchange. “We make a greater effort to understand the unique circumstances and social history of each juvenile in order to find the best disposition for him or her.”
In San Francisco, the program will highlight a collaborative approach between probation officers, courts, and attorneys in preparing juveniles to reenter society. China’s revised CPL includes measures for juvenile probation—called “conditional non-prosecution”—but the country does not currently have probation officers. “By engaging Chinese partners on probationary conditions and opportunities, we can help them realize their principle of ‘education first, punishment second,’” says Judge Julie Tang of San Francisco, a participant who has taken a lead role in the San Francisco portion of the exchange.
In Santa Clara, the delegates will study the law and practice of records sealing, which gives young people the hope of a fresh start by making them eligible to have their records cleared of criminal offenses. Records sealing for juveniles is an important aspect of the revised CPL, but questions remain about eligibility and whether records will be kept confidential or literally expunged. “Children are developing beings whose moral sense has not yet matured,” says Judge Leonard Edwards of Santa Clara County, who will be making a presentation on records sealing during the exchange. “A youth can be rehabilitated and become a productive member of society.”
The delegation will also attend a reception, jointly hosted by the California Supreme Court and Administrative Office of the Courts. The exchange will end with a panel discussion at UC Hastings College of the Law.
Dui Hua held previous Juvenile Justice Expert Exchanges with the SPC in 2008 and 2010 (PDF). Among the concepts proposed during these exchanges were diversion and behavioral assessments, both of which were incorporated into the revised CPL. “This exchange is of great importance for juvenile justice reform in China,” says Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm, “as it very well may influence the way the country implements its new juvenile justice system in 2013. Dui Hua and all our partners are eagerly looking forward to exchanging views and experiences with the Chinese delegation.”
Dui Hua Foundation
August 29, 20112