This post was originally published as part of Dui Hua’s This Month in History series in its October 2014 Digest.

From October 12–23, 2008, Dui Hua held its first juvenile justice exchange with the SPC, hosting a delegation of Chinese judges to study juvenile justice in the United States. Juvenile justice reform became a priority for the Chinese government as unprecedented economic growth and mass migration from rural to urban areas led to a sharp rise in juvenile criminal cases. Delinquency was particularly prevalent among children of migrant workers who were either left behind or taken to the cities where they were denied access to schooling and other social benefits.

Chinese reform efforts included the creation of an independent juvenile justice system with more than 2,000 juvenile tribunals. The SPC also embarked on study tours around the world to learn about approaches to addressing juvenile delinquency that stress education and rehabilitation.

Senior Judge Hu Weixin, deputy director of the SPC Research Office, led the delegation of judges hosted by Dui Hua in 2008. In total there were six judges from the SPC, the Politico-Legal Institute under the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, the Beijing High People’s Court, and the Qingdao Intermediate People’s Court. They visited juvenile courts, detention centers, and other rehabilitative facilities in Cook County, Illinois; Washington, DC; and San Francisco, California. The delegation met with experts and practitioners and spoke directly with juveniles standing trial and housed in correctional facilities. One of the highlights of the exchange was a meeting with US Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in the 2005 landmark decision to abolish the death penalty for juveniles.

Following this successful program, Dui Hua organized juvenile justice exchanges with the SPC in 2010 and 2012 and will host its fourth exchange in October 2014. In 2010, China invited Dui Hua to select a US delegation to tour juvenile facilities in Beijing and Qingdao. Two years later Chinese judges and experts spent a week observing juvenile justice systems in the San Francisco Bay Area.

These exchanges contributed to concrete changes in China’s juvenile justice system. Members of these delegations advised Chinese lawmakers on the addition of a section on juvenile criminal cases to the Criminal Procedure Law. Effective in 2013, these provisions prioritized diversionary measures, records sealing, behavioral and psychological assessments, protections during interrogation and trial, and non-custodial punishment.

These exchanges embody Dui Hua’s approach of promoting detainees’ rights by facilitating mutually respectful dialogue. While advocating for political and religious prisoners, Dui Hua has continued to plan productive exchanges on common-ground issues such as juvenile justice and women in prison, building strong times with China and expanding the number of at-risk detainees we serve.