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House Subcommittee Approves Juvenile Justice Bill

On June 21, the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Select Education approved, 12-1, bipartisan legislation (H.R. 1900) designed to prevent and reduce the number of crimes committed by juvenile offenders. During the 106th Congress, a similar bill was approved by the House as part of legislation (H.R. 1501) to reauthorize juvenile justice programs, most of which expired in 1996.

Sponsored by Reps. James Greenwood (R-PA) and Bobby Scott (D-VA), H.R. 1900 would consolidate five juvenile justice programs into one Prevention Block Grant. Programs under the two-year block grant would include: boot camps, mentoring projects, child abuse services, drug treatment programs, and state challenge activities. Half of the block grant would be allocated on the basis of a state’s juvenile population under the age of 18; the other half would be allocated based on the average number of serious crimes committed in the state. Schools, law enforcement organizations, and social service agencies would be among the entities eligible to receive grants.

Additionally, the legislation would extend to 48 hours the length of time youth offenders could be held in jail before appearing in court and would require that juveniles incarcerated in adult prisons be kept separate from adult inmates.

“We have been trying to reauthorize this bill” for six years, stated Rep. Greenwood. “The bill has bipartisan support,” he said, pointing out that the goal is “to move it without controversy” so that it can become law. While similar legislation passed the 106th Congress, it was never enacted due to gun-control amendments that proved to be controversial.

Consequently, a gun safety amendment, drafted by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and offered by subcommittee member Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), was withdrawn. Similar to a proposal in the President’s FY2002 budget, the amendment would have authorized $75 million annually over five years to provide free child safety locks for handguns. Administered by the Department of Education through local school systems, the program would have provided information on the use and benefits of child safety locks.

Calling her amendment “a common sense solution” to a dangerous problem, Rep. McCarthy told the subcommittee, “This is not a mandate.” The amendment would make “free safety locks available to every family that wants one,” she said, adding that “the President supports the use of child safety locks.”

Subsequently, Rep. Holt withdrew two additional amendments. One, also authored by Rep. McCarthy, would have directed the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to conduct a study on gun-related injuries and deaths committed by youth in schools and communities. The study would have focused on relationships between victims and their offenders, and details about weapons used in the crime. “We don’t have a good understanding of why this happens,” said Rep. McCarthy, adding, “this amendment would get at the source of the crime.”

The other amendment by Rep. Holt would have kept research and statistical analysis of youth-related crimes within the jurisdiction of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, giving it a separate focus and funding stream. Under H.R. 1900, as approved by the subcommittee, research on juvenile crimes would be combined with other crime research under the NIJ.

Chair Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) told Reps. McCarthy and Holt that he would work with them to reach a bipartisan agreement on their issues before the bill goes to the full committee for consideration.

The subcommittee adopted, by voice vote, an amendment by Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) that would encourage one-on-one mentoring programs designed to link at-risk juveniles and juvenile offenders with active-duty military personnel in local communities.

The subcommittee also approved, by voice vote, an amendment by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) that would restore authority to state advisory groups to approve grants under the new block grant program.

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