China has recorded breathtaking economic growth in recent years, but growth has not come about without problems. One consequence of the economic and social changes sweeping China has been a rise in juvenile crime, an especially challenging issue for China’s evolving legal and penal systems. Crime by juveniles—individuals between 14 and 18 years old (those under 14 are not criminally liable)—has increased in China at an average annual rate of 12 percent since 2000, eclipsing real GDP growth over the same period.
In the United States, about 27,000 youth enter secure detention facilities everyday, and nearly one million detentions occur in a year involving 600,000 juveniles, taking into account repeat offenders. Less than one-third of these young people are charged with violent crimes, and slightly more than this are charged with status offenses (such as breaking curfew and truancy) or violating terms of probation. The rate of US juvenile incarceration is about 300 per 100,000—the highest in the world—and many youth are kept in overcrowded, expensive facilities that leave them vulnerable to abuse while in custody and increase the likelihood of their delinquency after release.
One of the most prominent rights cases in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics was that of Yang Chunlin
(杨春林), the 52-year-old farmer from Heilongjiang Province behind a petition campaign employing the slogan, “We Want Human Rights, Not the Olympics!” Thousands of farmers aggrieved over loss of farmland to development signed the petition before Yang was detained in July 2007.
In the past year, Dui Hua has made a priority of asking about the status of individuals given long prison sentences for participating in the protests throughout China during the spring of 1989. Most were given suspended death sentences or life imprisonment for “counterrevolution,” “looting, smashing, and burning” or “hooliganism.” (The crimes of counterrevolution and hooliganism were removed from China’s criminal code in 1997.) Information provided in response to these inquiries has suggested that many of these long-serving prisoners have benefited from sentence reductions and parole and have, in many cases, been quietly released.
Fall trip concludes with SPC delegation; new staff members join Dui Hua.