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Historically, Chinese juvenile justice policy has stressed the importance of reform and reeducation as the main method supplemented by punishment (Cao and Cullen 2001). Both the Criminal Law (Article 17) and the Law on the Protection of Minors (Article 54) state that the policy of education, persuasion, and redemption shall be implemented on juvenile offenders; reeducation shall be upheld as the main method and punishment as the subsidiary strategy. In addition, the laws both require alleviated or mitigated punishment on juvenile offenders. In reality, re-enforcement of these laws depends on the local criminal justice agents, and they are frequently ignored or bypassed for convenience.

The Criminal Law of China categorizes punishments into five principal punishments and three supplementary punishments (Article 33 and 34). The five principal punishments include public surveillance, criminal detention, fix-term imprisonment, life imprisonment, and the death penalty. The three supplementary punishments are fine, deprivation of political rights, and confiscation of

Number of juvenile offenders incarcerated. Data source

Figure 8.3. Number of juvenile offenders incarcerated. Data source: China Law Society (2004-2013), Law Yearbook of China.

property. Among the principal punishments, both public surveillance and criminal detention might be used on juvenile offenders who commit relatively serious crimes. Both are carried out by the police instead of correctional institutions (Article 38 and 43). The Criminal Law, however, does not strictly prohibit the use of a life sentence on serious juvenile offenders. The Supreme People’s Court’s Interpretation on Proceedings on Handling Juvenile Criminal Cases provides that life sentence can only be used on juvenile offenders who committed extremely serious crime.

Fix-term imprisonment is carefully implemented. Official crime statistics show that although the overall number of serious juvenile offenders increased in the past 10 years, the use of prison incarceration has been declining. Figure 8.3 shows that from 2003 to 2012, the number of overall offenders being incarcerated steadily increased from 1.55 million in 2003 to 1.64 million in 2012; the number of juvenile offenders (under the age of 18) being incarcerated, however, decreased from 19,990 in 2003 to 15,429 in 2012. The decline is consistent with the recent changes in juvenile-related policies which highlights the importance of reform and reeducation which place rigorous restriction of incarceration of juvenile offenders. These policies are in line with the international treaties including UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice.

The Law on Protection of Minors requires that minors who are under custody or serving sentences shall be detained or imprisoned separately from adults (Article 57). This means that juvenile offenders should be separated from adult offenders in order to avoid “crime contamination.” The implementation of such laws, however, largely depends on the availability of the facility at a given jurisdiction. In many jurisdictions, juvenile suspects still run the risk of being detained with adult suspects (Yue 2002).

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