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Revised Law Sees Drop in Recorded Juvenile Crime
Source:Chinese Women's Research Network | Release Date:2017-12-21-
Title: Revised Law Sees Drop in Recorded Juvenile Crime
Author:
Source: China Daily
Release Date: December 21, 2017
Keyword: law, juvenile crime,
 

The number of court cases involving minors-children age 17 and younger-has fallen by almost 50 percent in the past five years, according to a report published by the National Bureau of Statistics.

The report shows that China's courts dealt with 35,743 cases involving minors last year, a fall of 47.6 percent compared with 2012.

Experts are attributing the change to the influence of the revised Criminal Procedure Law of 2012, which highlights education and rehabilitation rather than punishment for minors accused of crimes, and a decline in the number of repeat offenders.

However, judges and legal experts said juvenile crime is still a serious issue, and the Supreme People's Court has stressed that violent crimes, such as intentional homicide and rape, and drug-related offenses, remain major problems, especially among children age 14 and younger.

"These criminals may be young, but they have big problems," said Qin Shuo, chief judge of the juvenile tribunal at Beijing Haidian District People's Court. "It's easy to judge these young people, but getting them back on the straight and narrow is not easy."

As a pioneer judicial authority that has specialized in juvenile crime since 1987, the court has introduced a range of measures to help young offenders and their victims, and conducted studies on child protection and crime prevention.

In August 2013, the court established the judicial tribunal to handle civil and criminal cases involving minors and college students. It requires psychological assessments of juvenile offenders before prosecution, and provides courses for victims and the parents of young criminals to help them deal with the situation, according to Qin.

In addition, it operates a "return visit" program, under which officials keep track of offenders and victims when cases are concluded, and also encourages regular communication between judges and young offenders.

"Juvenile cases are different from adult ones. That means we must tackle them with different measures, and always make education a priority," Qin said.

Song Yinghui, a professor of law at Beijing Normal University, praised the measures. "Helping a juvenile criminal return to 'normal life' is a crucial element, alongside the values held by judges such as Qin," he said.

Psychological aid

In the 1990s, the court began including psychological assessments in its work, and about three years ago, it invited researchers from the psychology department at the People's Public Security University of China to participate in cases involving juveniles.

"It helps to know why a child has committed a certain crime because it provides a guide to rehabilitation. It's like seeing a doctor and having a physical to determine if you require treatment," said Li Meijin, an expert in criminal psychology at the university.

"After talking to young criminals and testing them, we submit a report to the court which informs the judges whether the offender is likely to respond to a rehabilitation program."

Some minors who impulsively commit serious crimes, such as intentional homicide or intentional injury, can be rehabilitated via lenient punishment, while others require regular checks or long-term treatment to work through their problems, according to Li. "That's because they are likely to develop serious psychological problems, or have been deeply influenced by broken families or terrible backgrounds," he said.

Qin said psychological assessments can help judges during sentencing. She cited an example from 2015, when she sentenced a 17-year-old boy to two years in prison for injuring a stranger by stabbing him with a knife during a quarrel.

"The tests indicated that it was an impulsive act. Moreover, the offender pleaded guilty with a positive attitude, saying he did it to vent his anger," she said.

However, she sentenced another 17-year-old to 11 years for unintentional homicide and injury because he displayed no remorse and refused to apologize to the victims or their families.

"He injected bottles of juice with deadly chemicals with the aim of killing his step-grandmother after hearing his parents' complain that she would inherit his grandfather's property and goods," she said.

The boy's mother threw the bottles away before the step-grandmother could drink from them, but a 6-year-old boy died and an elderly woman was poisoned after drinking the juice.

No action was taken against the mother because she was unaware that the bottles contained lethal substances.

Parenting classes

Guo Jie, a judge from Fujian province, said the guardians of young defendants should be required to attend "good parenting" classes. "Insufficient care and protection, or poor communication within families can easily affect a child's behavior," she said.

A number of surveys reinforce that point. Between April and September, Song's team questioned 399 juvenile inmates, receiving 393 responses. More than 74 percent said their guardians did not provide adequate care and failed to offer guidance that would help them to avoid pitfalls.

In 2014, a survey showed that 62 percent of 308 juveniles involved in civil or criminal cases did not live with their parents, while 75.15 percent rarely spoke with their guardians.

"It is obvious that insufficient care is strongly linked to juvenile offenses," Song said, adding that the figures also explain why many young offenders are the children of migrant workers in big cities.

Since 2012, Qin's court has explored parental education. It invites psychologists, and legal and educational experts to share their knowledge with parents in accordance with their children's crimes.

"For example, we provide classes for parents whose children committed drug-related offenses, and also give parenting classes to single fathers," Qin said. "Classes for an individual case last three or four hours, while those for groups of parents last about an hour."

Li is in favor of the measures: "The aim is to change children's behavior by changing their parents. Better family relations can make a major contribution to the correction of young criminals, and help them to avoid reoffending."

Communications

To assess the impact of punishment and education in the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders, Qin's tribunal established a communications channel between judges and young offenders, both those in detention and those who have served their sentences.

"Sentencing and punishment is not the end of juvenile cases. It is our job to put young people back on the right track and ensure their behavior has been corrected," said Qin's colleague, Cao Xiaoying.

Qin said the tribunal will establish a sister project next year, under which each judge will be responsible for specific children. "If a juvenile commits a new crime or his or her family becomes embroiled in a fresh lawsuit, the judge who handled their original case will deal with the new problem," she said.

"Better understanding of the family and child improves our effectiveness and allows us to establish trust with all parties concerned."

Although some parts of the revised law-such as sealing the criminal records of people age 18 and younger who have been sentenced to less than five years-aid child protection, problems remain.

"We still face challenges in preventing juvenile crime", Li said. She urged the formation of public security department teams to specialize in cases of juvenile crime, and also called on NGOs to provide support measures for minors to help them avoid criminal activity.

Song suggested that an early intervention system should be established to identify potential young offenders, especially those who may commit violent crimes.

He cited a survey he conducted last year among 382 juvenile inmates in which 372 admitted behaving inappropriately, such as committing petty theft, before moving on to more serious crimes.

"If we can identify potential offenders and help them earlier, they may not commit crimes at all," he said. 

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