As discussed previously, crime in China is defined as offending behavior that reaches a certain level of severity. Minor offenses are often handled by the police according to the PSAPL, and only serious offenses are required to go through the official criminal justice proceedings, i.e., from police arrest to prosecution, to court trial and sentencing, and to correctional punishment/rehabilitation. The police have tremendous discretionary power over juveniles, including warning, arrests, detention, and administrative punishment.

There are no specialized police officers for dealing with juveniles, but police officers work closely with the neighborhood committees and schools. Much of the police work with juveniles involves either order maintenance or service activities. When there is a sign for juvenile delinquency, the police often work with the parents, schoolteachers, and neighborhood committees as a coalition to provide assistance and counseling to the problem kids. Chinese police devote most of their time and resources to provide services for various community work and to resolve community conflicts, by using counseling, mediation, negotiation, or conciliation. Because the majority of the cases are handled at the community, school, or family level, arrest of juvenile offenders is considered a last resort (Zhao et al. 2014).

For serious offenses, if a juvenile delinquent cannot be held responsible because of his/her age, the police may decide to issue an order to their parents or legal guardians asking them to strictly discipline the child. According to the PSAPL, adolescents younger than the age of 14 are immune from any administrative punishment. They do not carry any criminal responsibility either. When it comes to the more serious crimes (e.g., the eight major types of crime committed by youth between the age of 14 and 16 years) and other major crimes by older adolescents (at the age of 16 or older as described by the Criminal Law), the police will then need to take the juvenile into custody and conduct a criminal investigation. In recent years, there has been a decreasing trend of police arrests in China. The Chinese Criminal Procedure Law requires that arrests of juvenile criminal suspects be rigorously restricted (Article 269). Statistics show that in 2011 the approval rate for arrests of juvenile suspects by the prosecution’s offices at various levels decreased by 5 % compared with the previous year (Huang 2012).

After a juvenile is arrested, he/she is locked up in a secure facility while waiting for a court trial or a decision not to prosecute. Before 1996 juvenile offenders were housed with adult offenders, which caused serious “cross-contamination” problems. After 1996 juvenile offenders were separated from adult offenders whenever possible; despite this however, they continued to be subjected to the reeducation through labor system which did not differ much from that for adult offenders (Zhang 2013b).

In some circumstances, a juvenile can be placed under house detention or be granted bail. The practice of granting juvenile bail has been rare in many jurisdictions in China. However, its use has been steadily increasing in more economically developed jurisdictions (Zhang 2007; Zhao et al. 2014). For detained juveniles, Article 269 of the Criminal Law requires that juveniles who are detained, are arrested, or are being punished for a crime should be locked up, supervised, and educated separately from adults.

In 2013, the controversial program of “Re-education Through Labor System” (RTLS thereafter) was finally abolished. RTLS was an administrative incarceration for both adults and juveniles, which targeted minor offenders, and was administered by the police as an expedient tool. The police had great discretionary power as to who to incarcerate and the length of incarceration (Zhang 2013b). RTLS was criticized for the lack of legal basis. Offenders were deprived of their freedom without going through the judicial procedures. This led to the abuse of power by the police due to the lack of supervision mechanisms. The abolition of RTLS has restricted police discretionary power and represents a step forward toward “rule by law.”

The police are also responsible for interrogating juvenile offenders in the presence of the juvenile’s parents or other legal guardians. Article 56 of the Law on Protection of Minors stipulates that to interrogate minors suspected of crime or question victims or witnesses who are minors, public security organs or people’s procuratorates shall notify the guardians of the minor to be present. If the legal representatives cannot attend the interrogation or trial, or are accomplices of the juvenile suspect, other parties, such as the juvenile’s close relatives, representatives of his/her schools, work units, and neighborhood committees, might be informed to attend the interrogation and trial (Zhao et al. 2014).

The Law on Protection of Minors further provides that in dealing with cases involving crimes committed by minors and cases that involve preserving the rights and interests of minors, public security organs, people’s procuratorates, and people’s courts shall take the characteristics of juvenile’s physical and mental development into consideration, respect their personal dignity, and safeguard their lawful rights and interests and may, where necessary, set up special agencies or designate special persons to handle such cases (Article 55).

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