On the morning of May 10, the American juvenile justice delegation traveled to rural Daxing District, in the Beijing suburbs. There, surrounded by acres of agricultural land and several other correctional facilities, lies the Beijing Juvenile Reform Center. It is the only juvenile reform center in Beijing, and was established in September 1955. Administered by the Beijing Prison Bureau, the center houses approximately 470 teenagers (over 95 percent boys) serving custodial sentences for offenses committed between the ages of 14 and 18. A large group of boys performed a drum-and-dance ceremonial welcome before the delegation was led inside for a tour of the facility, which was empty because the center was holding its semi-annual “sports day.”
The delegation viewed male and female dormitories, classrooms, and other activity rooms. There were 12 female offenders incarcerated in the center, all housed in a separate cellblock that is off-limits to male staff and inmates. During the tour, the center’s warden and deputy warden responded to questions from delegates. Around 60 percent of the juveniles committed violent offenses such as assault and robbery, and there were two inmates serving life sentences. Most offenders in the center are between the ages of 14 and 17, but the average age of inmates is around 17-and-a-half years old. The average age is relatively high because inmates who turn 18 but who have two years or less left on their sentences are typically not transferred to an adult prison but remain at the juvenile prison to serve out the remainder of their terms. For the nation as a whole, 85 percent of inmates in juvenile prisons are over the age of 16.
Delegates were introduced to the system of awarding points for good behavior. Each month, inmates can earn up to 10 points: one for showing remorse, one for performing well in “thought reform,” and eight for good behavior in areas such as observing discipline, school performance, and hygiene. Violations can result in deduction of points. Centers reward the accumulation of points with citations, which in turn form the basis of applications for sentence reduction. In the spirit of offering young offenders the chance for a new beginning, the parole rate is around 20 percent—much higher than in adult prisons.
Teens in the center are entitled to one family visit per month, and this privilege is not restricted as a form of punishment. To facilitate family contact, offenders can also send and receive letters, make periodic telephone calls, and even send text messages. The delegates were interested to learn that there is no problem with gangs in the center, and violence between inmates is rare because vigilant monitoring allows for conflicts to be defused at an early stage. While there is a protocol for solitary confinement, center officials claimed that this measure is very seldom used. Asked to describe their biggest challenge, the center authorities responded that it was difficult to deliver vocational training given the varying ages and sentences of the youths in the center.