Young offenders get protection

Updated: 2014-05-14 07:42

By Cao Yin (China Daily)

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Young offenders get protection

A job fair targeting juvenile offenders is held at a detention center in May 2013. More than 30 young inmates signed job contracts with enterprises at the fair. [Li Qingshan / Xinhua]

The number of young offenders in Beijing who were exempted from prosecution has been increasing in recent years as part of an effort to guide juveniles into productive life patterns.

But leniency doesn't always work, and challenges remain, an official of the capital's top prosecuting authority said.

On the heels of the revised Criminal Procedure Law, which went into effect in January 2013, the number of young offenders who were not prosecuted in court in Beijing last year rose to 290 from 114 in 2011, figures from the city's People's Procuratorate show.

"That means a few young people whose offenses were minor and who confessed to their wrong behavior did not need to stand trial. It's a kind of privilege for minors," said Yue Huiqing, director of the juvenile crime department at the procuratorate.

Under the law, which has 11 articles aimed at minors, prosecutors are given discretionary power to decide to cancel a prosecution in the case of a young offender who pleads guilty and whose crime calls for a sentence of less than one year in prison.

"It's a process that our judicial organs adopted to correct young offenders through education instead of punishment," Yue said. "But the offenders must be monitored by us for at least six months. If they perform well, we will decide not to prosecute them."

Prosecutors are asked to supervise juvenile offenders during the observation period, she said.

Last year, Beijing prosecutors signed on to a cooperative project with the Capital Library of China to offer volunteer work to young offenders who were not prosecuted.

A 17-year-old boy surnamed Mao, from Sichuan province, had been detained for allegedly causing trouble after drinking alcohol last year, but he was not the principal culprit and confessed to his misdeeds. "So I decided to put him under observation and not prosecute him," said Yang Lu, a prosecutor from Chaoyang district.

Yang sent the boy to the library to assist social workers in tidying up books, and provided him with legal training.

"The social workers recorded his performance every day and sometimes provided him with psychological aid," Yang said. "We established a group to observe him and finally, after a conference, did not prosecute him."

Three enterprises, including two private ones, have offered work to minor offenders - as security guards, hotel staff or restaurant workers - during the observation period.

"If they do well and reach the legal working age, they can be hired by the enterprises. It's a protection for young offenders, no matter where they come from," Yue said.

So far, two juvenile offenders have stayed on in such positions after being observed by prosecutors - "which also helps them avoid committing crimes again", Yue said.

The privacy of young offenders can also be protected during the observation period, she said.

But not all juvenile offenders escape prosecution.

A 16-year-old boy was prosecuted in court and received a three-month criminal detention after he failed the observation phase, said Lu Ye, a prosecutor at Xicheng district.

The boy was originally arrested for stealing about 4,000 yuan ($640) from residents, but his offenses were considered minor, "so we intended not to prosecute him and sent him to a restaurant for observation", Lu said.

But he was often late for work and even disappeared for two weeks during the observation, "which made it difficult for the employer, his family and us", she said.

"I talked with him several times and told him he wouldn't be detained if he could abide by the restaurant's rules, but he ignored these," she said.

Lu Yulan, head of a Beijing-based social work association, said the decision to prosecute minors must be based on comprehensive background reports.

By the end of last year, Beijing had issued four guidelines for judicial workers - including prosecutors and judges - to specify how to handle juvenile offenses.

Last year, Beijing completed 902 background reports on juvenile offenders, according to figures from the city's procuratorate.

"The report covers not only a young offender's background, but also our analysis and evaluation on whether to prosecute him or her and how dangerous he or she is," Lu Yulan said, adding that more needs to be done for juvenile protection.

Big cities including Beijing and Shanghai have specified laws swiftly in that regard.