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In 2012, China added a juvenile section to its Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) (which took effect on January 1, 2013), codifying the principle of education first, punishment second. The section includes provisions for records sealing, diversion, social inquiry reports, and the presence of female staff while young women are questioned. In 2011, China amended its Criminal Law to recommend suspended sentences for youth who commit minor offenses. International exchanges, including those organized by Dui Hua, played an important role in the development of these reforms.
Non-custodial punishments are crucial to help juveniles avoid re-offending, ensure their healthy development, and facilitate their positive interaction with the community. The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (the Beijing Rules) call for the least possible use of custodial punishment, noting that it is no more effective than non-custodial punishment but much more harmful.
In order to further increase non-custodial punishments for juveniles, the establishment and growth of qualified social services are necessary for screening and implementation, especially for underserved groups like migrant juveniles.
The number of juveniles adjudicated in China fell 4.5 percent in 2008‒2012, as compared to the previous five-year period. Meanwhile, the portion of juveniles receiving non-custodial punishments increased to 40.24 percent in 2014 from 35.56 percent in 2010, and the rate of the procuratorate rejecting arrests and indictments of juveniles has risen in recent years. For people in custody, Chinese law requires juveniles to be held, managed, and educated separate from adults; however, it is not uncommon for juveniles to be held with adults in detention centers, and in some locales, female juveniles serve custodial sentences in adult women’s prisons. While China’s attention to juvenile justice has resulted in many positive reforms, partnerships and further innovation are necessary to ensure their successful implementation.
Since amending its criminal procedure law in 2013, Chinese courts have emphasized the importance of an independent and standardized juvenile justice system that puts “education first” and includes mentoring and criminal record sealing. While non-custodial measures are possible for juvenile offenders, obstacles remain. Violent crime committed by juveniles is on the rise in China and offenders are getting younger. In response, public sentiment has been leaning towards a more punitive juvenile justice model and one that would lower the age of criminal responsibility. Dui Hua is skeptical about the long-term merits of adopting a more punitive regime. Our foundation encourages a system that addresses the root social causes of juvenile delinquency and emphasizes non-custodial measures. Many procurators and legal scholars in China have also publicly acknowledged the importance of understanding how poverty intersects with juvenile delinquency. In July and August 2016, Hubei and Shaanxi provinces introduced legislation intended to protect at-risk populations such as migrants and “left-behind children”. The inequities faced by China’s “left behind” youth run deep and legislators are right to attempt to protect this particularly vulnerable population.
Juvenile Justice Expert Exchange
Chinese and US participants give presentations and engage in discussion at the 2010 exchange in Qingdao.
Dui Hua’s expert exchanges have contributed to concrete reformative steps in China’s juvenile justice system, including:
- Pilot programs to seal juvenile criminal records, which help remove the harmful label of “juvenile delinquent” and facilitate reentry and reintegration into society;
- Pilot programs to postpone prosecution (equivalent to diversion in the West), which replace jail time with non-custodial rehabilitative programs; and
- The addition of a juvenile-case section to the recently amended Criminal Procedure Law. The law nationalizes the sealing of records and postponed prosecution, stipulates the use of behavioral and psychological assessments, and improves protections for juvenile detainees facing interrogation and trial.
Dui Hua held juvenile justice expert exchanges with the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) in 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014. Concepts proposed during the exchanges were incorporated into CPL revisions effective January 1, 2013. Sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the 2008 exchange was the SPC’s first US study tour on juvenile justice. US Supreme Court Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy received the delegation in Washington. For the 2010 exchange, the SPC invited US delegates to China. Supported by Hong Kong’s Fu Tak Iam Foundation, the exchange included a court tour led by Judge Shang Xiuyun, known as China’s “Mother Judge” for her commitment to rehabilitative justice for juveniles.
Chinese delegates visit a San Francisco juvenile courtroom with San Francisco Judge Julie Tang (fourth from right) during the 2012 Juvenile Justice Expert Exchange.
During the 2012 exchange, Dui Hua immersed a Chinese delegation in the juvenile justice systems of California’s San Mateo, San Francisco, and Santa Clara counties. Throughout the program, a strong emphasis was placed on the importance of collaboration between juvenile judges, probation officers, attorneys, and service providers in crafting dispositions and treatment plans that encourage rehabilitation. Find out what US participants had to say about the 2012 exchange.
Dui Hua hosted the fourth US-China juvenile justice exchange with the SPC in Beijing on October 13–14, 2014. Records sealing was the focus of the exchange, with juvenile law expert and retired Santa Clara County Judge Leonard Edwards serving as principal participant from the US side. The SPC Research Department Office of Juvenile Courts hosted the US team, and more than 40 judges attended the seminar from juvenile courts in 12 Chinese provinces and municipalities.
Participants of the 4th US-China Juvenile Justice Exchange in 2014.