Pilot program involves series of short courses aimed at changing behavior
A Beijing court has been testing a way to educate and correct young bullies, in a move to help them return to school. If the program is successful, it will be expanded to young people who have committed other offenses, it said.
The correction takes the form of training courses organized by the capital's Tongzhou District People's Court. The courses began on Monday with 14 girls, 15 to 17 years old, who had been punished for bullying on campus.
One of the participants had been given a suspended prison sentence of a year and 10 months. The court did not release information about specific offenses because it wanted to protect the minors' privacy.
It's the first time a court has tried to educate young offenders through training, although prosecutors elsewhere have tried similar approaches. The course will run until Friday.
"Our aim is to show these students who have received criminal or administrative punishments for bullying the severity of their actions and help change their behavior," said Wei Dan, chief judge of the court's No 2 Criminal Tribunal.
The students will receive a series of short courses over the five days, including military training, lectures on the law and psychological support, Wei said.
"I took the girls to cross a long rope bridge in an ecological garden on Monday. Some brave ones reached out to help those who were fearful, which impressed me," she said. It was a good opportunity to show them how to take care of others and get along, she added.
The students will be given individual psychological counseling on Wednesday, the court said.
"We hope the girls can open their minds in the courses, realizing the impropriety of their earlier behavior and learning how to communicate with others," Wei said.
She noted that attendance was voluntarily, and that the instructors would review each student's performance the week before they can return to school.
"It's a new exploration in educating young offenders, and we're planning to conduct such courses regularly," she said.
Tong Lihua, head of Beijing Children's Legal Aid and Research Center, applauded the short course format, saying juvenile problems, especially bullying, should be solved by people from all walks of life.
"Schools cannot handle serious bullying incidents. Judicial authorities must step in with aid. But the aid must not focus solely on investigation and trial," he said. "What the minors need is legal education. Youngsters will easily realize the seriousness of behaviors when they are educated by judges instead of teachers."
Ruan Chuansheng, a Shanghai criminal lawyer, however, said he prefers the courses to be given by justice bureaus or prosecutors.
"After all, courts should focus on case hearings," he said.
Prosecutors in Shanghai's Jing'an district have done similar tests aimed at helping minors, he said. Judicial workers should be trained before providing courses, he added.