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Jeremy Daum Holds Events on Juvenile Diversion

Juvenile crime in China has increased sharply following the country’s rapid economic development and urbanization. China lacks a discrete juvenile justice system, but the revised Criminal Procedure Law (CPL), which took effect in 2013, introduced a new section on procedural protections for juvenile defendants, urging more specialized juvenile justice institutions and codifying the principle of ‘education first, with punishment secondary’ for juvenile offenders.

The Yale China Law Center has been a resource to Chinese juvenile justice professionals over the last five years, as they have worked to develop and implement effective prevention and intervention strategies that provide rehabilitative opportunities tailored to the special characteristics of juveniles, while also maintaining public safety and holding offenders accountable. We have consistently collaborated with innovative academics and practitioners to conduct research, discuss comparative models and explore new practices.

On March 19th and 20th we joined Beijing Normal University Professor Su Mingyue, a former visiting scholar at The China Law Center, in convening a workshop to discuss techniques for assessing juvenile offenders’ risk of reoffending. The revised CPL introduced the possibility of diverting juvenile offenders from the formal criminal justice system, but left practitioners with the challenge of determining which eligible youth would be best served by such diversion and what types of rehabilitative intervention would be most effective in preventing recidivism. Contact with the criminal justice system can leave youth labeled as ‘delinquent’ and even transform them into more hardened criminals, but a decision to release them outright does little to change the circumstances which originally led them into contact with the law.

The Haidian Procuratorate Juvenile Office (HPJO) prosecutors attended the workshop and shared their experiences in implementing the revised CPL. The HPJO, established in 2010, was Beijing’s first independent Juvenile Prosecution Department, and has been a pioneer in juvenile justice innovation in China and a leading model for procuratorates across the nation. HPJO director YANG Xin’e explained her office’s collaboration with social workers from the Chaoyue Social Work Service Center, who also presented at the event. The social workers, led by Professor XI Xiaohua, described the comprehensive background reports on juvenile suspects that they provide for prosecutors who must make the decision whether to indict or divert.

Professor Deborah Koetzle, Executive Officer (Director) of the Doctoral Program in Criminal Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and expert in the design and use of evidence-based assessment tools, introduced the historic development and key concepts behind such instruments used in the United States. A second American expert, Courtney Bryan, Director of the Center for Court Innovation’s Midtown Community Court Project, explained how such tools are used in practice at key points in the American justice system to assist in determining case dispositions.

During the second day of the workshop, prosecutors, social workers and academics broke into small groups to analyze actual cases from both China and the U.S. that were presented by their colleagues. This allowed for a practical opportunity to apply some of the risk assessment strategies learned the previous day. On regrouping to discuss each group’s conclusions we were able to more concretely explore what factors were most relevant to predicting recidivism and to discuss potential biases in making such judgments; even at times critiquing the way the case had actually been resolved. The two American experts have agreed to continue collaboration with their Chinese colleagues towards designing and implementing evidence-based assessment tools suitable for use in China.

On March 21, Director Bryan and Prof. Koetzle attended a second juvenile justice symposium, discussing the content and goals of different forms of rehabilitative education and intervention programs. Participants at this event included lawyers specializing in child-representation, as well as chief judges and prosecutors from juvenile departments in 15 provinces across China, who were able to discuss the successes and challenges they faced in their jurisdictions.

Director Bryan gave an overview of the U.S. juvenile justice system and lessons learned in its ongoing development. She was also able to share insights from the Center for Court Innovation’s recent work in the New York area, creating a new pilot project on diversion for young adult offenders. Prof. Koetzle shared findings from U.S. empirical studies on the impact of different diversion strategies on recidivism, emphasizing that youth at different risk levels benefit most from different levels of intervention, and the need for ongoing empirical research while developing models in both countries.