5 Weeks Down, 5 More to Go| June 30, 2013
It's so strange to think that I've been in China for five weeks. The days go by quickly, what with the work, tutoring, sightseeing, and time with friends. Although time seems to be slipping by, I am glad to be on week five, as my work is coming together, and I can see the results up ahead.
As I told you earlier, I have been researching juvenile diversion programs. I've recently expanded my search beyond the U.S., and I'm now exploring how the juvenile system works in Australia. My research is contributing to the reformation efforts in China, but I thought it would be interesting to tell you about how the Chinese system functions, the problems that have resulted, and my general thoughts on the U.S. model.
In China, there is not a separate juvenile justice system as there is in the U.S. Juveniles are seen in the same courts as adults, and although their detention facilities are separate from adults, harsh punishments and judgments are the norm (As a side note, there is not a formal DSS/CPS agency either in China. This is problematic as the creation of these entities is left to local communities, and as there is little coordination between agencies, little is done by the way of removing children from abuse and neglect situations. Granted, there are serious issues with the protection of children in the U.S., but I was shocked to learn that there is no unified, official agency for child protection services.). At the beginning of this year, a criminal law passed that was an attempt to reform many areas of criminal law. Juvenile issues were addressed, and a diversion-like program was legislatively outlined. This is a major step in juvenile justice reform, but there are still wide gaps in the newly created law. For example, the program is overseen by the state attorney. Because there is no cooperation between other agencies, like law enforcement or community-based centers, there is a huge lack of accountability for the youths. State attorneys cannot be expected to oversee all steps of the program while also fulfilling their other duties. So, my research has been focused on helping determine methods of accountability, to ensure that the goals of the programs are met (e.g. reducing recidivism, reintegration of juvenile offenders into society, and/or appropriately addressing any physical or mental issues the youth might have). There are numerous problems within the program and the way juveniles are treated as a whole, and as such, I know that I cannot explain them in a short blog. Suffice it to say that I'm learning a lot and am excited to be contributing to what I believe is a extremely important goal both for juveniles, and as an effort to help effectively establish the rule of law in China.
In the U.S., types of diversion programs (for adults and juveniles alike) have existed for at least a hundred years. But it wasn't until the 1970s (the "decade of reform") that stirred the juvenile justice system (JJS) reformation movement. In response to a report by the presidential law commission (which revealed huge problems of disproportionate sentencing, lack of rehabilitative services, etc.), there was a dramatic push to change how the JJS worked. As such, juvenile diversion programs began to pop up in more structured ways, and a renewed effort to focus on rehabilitation emerged. Forgive me for such a short summation of the history. Although the goals of the diversion programs are admirable, the problem is that little research has ever been done on the efficacy of the programs (seriously, there is a tiny smidge of data), and the programs have changed very little since the 70s. I have read articles from the early 80s that describe the goals and implementation of the programs exactly the same as articles from the early 2000s. Do the programs work? Who knows. It has been an enlightening few weeks, and as I hope to work as a child advocate upon graduation, it has been rewarding to learn not only about the U.S. JJS system, but also comparing that information to other countries, highlightin both the postives and negatives of each.
Shifting gears, I wanted to share with you a bit about my daily life in Beijing. I have mentioned the problems with pollution. I thought I might begin to get used to it, but honestly, I have really begun to feel the effects. Two days ago, the Air Quality Index read 466. To put that in perspective, check out the following website: http://www.airnow.gov/?action=aqibasics.aqi Also, if you ever feel like checking how my day is going pollution-wise, you can also check here: http://aqicn.org/city/beijing/
I can live with the knowledge that my time here is brief, but it terrifies me that people live like this indefinitely. What's worse, is that so many people here are smokers. Smoking happens everywhere; I see it on the street, in my hotel, in restaurants, at work. I just wonder how we'll see the effects of all of it in the years to come. Some days, I can look directly at the sun without any problems. The constant feeling of it being overcast has surprisingly begun to effect my mood, and on the rare sunny days, I feel super blessed. I have realized just how much we take for granted the fresh air we are able to breath. It is worse that I feel like most people have acquiesced to the problem; hardly anyone wears masks (who knows if they even help), and life doesn't seem much different when the really bad days happen. Right now, we're at a 217 ("very unhealthy"). Williamsburg is at a 34. Boise (where I'm from) is at a 63. And Seattle (where a lot of my family lives) is at 21. I've tried to capture the smog in pictures, and it has proved difficult. But, I've included the best one I've take so far.
To end on a lighter note, I was able to visit the Forbidden City this weekend. I've also visited the Silk Market and some street markets (which sell super cheap/awesome clothes, shoes, accessories, etc. -- I purchased a fantastic sun hat for only 28 yuan! That's $4.50 USD). There's been more hutong exploring, as well as some more awesomely delicious eats. I've developed an obsession with bubble tea, and I can't stop eating egg tarts. I'm building some strong friendships with the other interns and loving the time I spend with my little chickadees that I tutor -- I am going to be really sad when it comes time to say goodbye to all the amazing people I've met.
Here is a picture of me at the Forbidden City. Enjoy! Until next time.