Legislation empowers communities to invest in at-risk youth
The United States, by far, incarcerates its residents at much greater rates than any other nation in the world. Incarceration costs in the U.S. have risen to $65 billion a year. Furthermore, in the United States, Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans are overrepresented at every stage of the criminal justice system compared to Whites. Racial disparities increase rather than diminish as offenders move further into the system. Racial disparities are exacerbated by “tough on crime” policies such as mandatory minimum sentencing and school zone drug laws which have lead to disproportionate numbers of African Americans being incarcerated in this country.
Especially devastating to our communities and to our youth is gang violence: many of the crimes committed by gangs and gang members are reprehensible and cause irreparable harm not only to individual victims but to families and whole neighborhoods as well. While the perpetrators of these crimes must be punished, it is becoming clear that we must take a proactive approach and try to steer at-risk youth away from gangs and towards being successful, productive members of our communities before a crime is committed.
Congressman Robert “Bobby” Scott (VA) and Senators Robert Casey (PA) and Olympia Snowe (ME) have introduced H.R. 1064 / S. 435, the “Youth Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support and Education Act” (the “Youth PROMISE Act”) to reduce crime before it happens by investing in research-based programs. The Youth PROMISE Act mobilizes community leaders and invests almost exclusively in prevention and intervention, as opposed to the standard approach, which is obviously not working, of waiting for a crime to occur and then putting the alleged criminals in jail.
Specifically, the Youth PROMISE Act allows communities facing the greatest youth gang and crime challenges to form a council to include representatives from law enforcement, court services, schools, social service organizations, health and mental health providers and community-based organizations, including faith-based organizations. These councils will then develop a comprehensive plan for implementing evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies that fit the needs of the particular community. These strategies will target young people who are at-risk of becoming involved, or who are already involved in, gangs or the criminal justice system and redirect them toward productive and law-abiding alternatives.
On Thursday, October 29, 2009, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security unanimously approved of H.R. 1064, the Youth PROMISE Act and passed it on to the full House Judiciary Committee, where it is pending.
THE NAACP STRONGLY SUPPORTS THE YOUTH PROMISE ACT AND URGES EVERY MEMBER OF THE HOUSE AND SENATE TO SUPPORT AND CO-SPONSOR THIS IMPORTANT LEGISLATION.