Not adding up: Criminal reconciliation in Chinese juvenile justice
Jun 20, 2012
Recent amendments to China’s Criminal Procedure Law involve special procedures for handling cases involving juvenile defendants and resolving cases through criminal reconciliation. Although the law does not explicitly link the two, criminal reconciliation has been a key feature in the development of China’s juvenile justice system under the principle of “education first, punishment second.”
Dui Hua welcomes criminal reconciliation as a means to restorative justice and reduced juvenile incarceration, but research suggests that the relatively new measure is experiencing some growing pains in China. Jiang Jue (姜珏), a PhD candidate in the School of Law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, has done extensive research on criminal reconciliation in China and has seen how the process works in many juvenile cases. Her research indicates that current implementation of criminal reconciliation falls short of juvenile justice principles by alienating youth and stifling attempts at education.
....Proponents of criminal reconciliation believe that it has many important social benefits, particularly in cases involving juvenile defendants. Envisioned as a restorative, as opposed to a retributive, mode of justice, the reconciliation process provides an opportunity for defendants in relatively minor crimes to be confronted directly with the harmful consequences of their actions and take concrete steps to right their wrongs. The process gives victims the opportunity to play a more active role, especially compared to their role in the traditional adjudication process, in fashioning a means to resolve the emotional and material harm they have endured.
The interest in using reconciliation in juvenile criminal cases is largely based on the belief that it offers a better way to educate juvenile defendants, gives them an opportunity to correct their mistakes without incarceration, and facilitates reintegration into society. Besides being compatible with the juvenile justice system’s guiding principle of “education first, punishment second,” criminal reconciliation also resonates with the broader criminal justice policy of “combining leniency and severity” and the goal of promoting a “harmonious society,” a key policy of the Chinese Communist Party under President Hu Jintao.
According to Jiang’s research, however, there are other reasons to promote criminal reconciliation. One of those reasons is efficiency. Admission of guilt is a precondition for reconciliation, and it is unnecessary for prosecutors to bring forward any other evidence. Jiang believes this may create incentive for prosecutors to push for reconciliation in cases they might not be able to win at trial. It may also promote reconciliation as a shortcut to, as one judge informed Jiang, “educate” a defendant about the benefits of admitting guilt—presumably irrespective of veracity.
Judges and prosecutors are also encouraged to use criminal reconciliation by its addition to internal criteria to assess their performance. These assessments include quotas that are directly tied to promotions or bonuses. While these quotas are presumably meant to boost the profile and appropriate application of the alternative measure, Jiang argues that they create pressure for court officials and prosecutors to meet their targets by whatever means possible, including through repeated persuasion or even more overt pressure to choose the route of reconciliation over ordinary adjudication.