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House of Representatives Passes H.R. 3

The Juvenile Crime Control Act

Cartoon commentary by R.J. Riley, Prisoner of War in America

On May 8, 1997 the House of Representatives opened discussion and voted on amendments to H.R. 3, the Juvenile Crime Control Act of 1997. Late in the day, the House passed the bill and requested the Senate to do the same.

Please study the following congressional comments and debate. Not all legislators are drug war hawks and herein this discussion are many critisisms of present judicial practices.

If the Senate passes this bill as the House has - the federal drug and crime war expands to the children of our nation.

These remarks are here printed in part and are not the entire discussion.

Mr. CUMMINGS- Mr. Chairman, the folks who support H.R. 3 just do not get it. They just do not get it. Our children need help. They need a lot of help. They do not need a kick in the behind. A young man who was placed in a Maryland prison, 15 years old, killed himself. But just before he killed himself, he wrote a poem that is embedded in the DNA of every cell of my brain . . .

According to the American Psychological Association, children confined in adult institutions are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted, twice as likely to be beaten by staff, and 50 percent more likely to be attacked with a weapon than children detained in juvenile facilities . . .

Mr. KENNEDY of Rhode Island- Mr. Chairman, the base bill, the McCollum bill, is a joke. Anybody in juvenile corrections knows it is a joke. Now this bill is a joke because it ignores these facts, and what is more, it ignores the fundamental truth that prevention works. And if my colleagues need to talk to States attorneys and local people, probation officers, and the like, they will tell them prevention works.

Mr. WEYGAND- Mr. Chairman, I am particularly troubled by the provisions of H.R. 3, and my colleagues should be too... Early intervention, childhood developments, and prevention we know are the keys to making sure that we keep kids out of prisons and making sure that we make a better society. But what does this bill do? This bill gives bragging rights to people who can say, "I'm putting people in prison." Is that really what we want to do?

The other day Jimmy Carter quoted. What he said was an uneasy feeling he had about the trend in prisons. Twenty-two years ago when he was Governor of Georgia the bragging rights of Governors were alternative sentencing programs, keeping people out of prisons. Now Governors go around the country saying how many prison cells they are building, how many people they are putting behind bars. Let us not forsake our children for the bragging rights of just building prisons. Let us be strong on crime but even stronger on crime prevention.

Rep Waters introduced an amendment l that would have deleted the provision of the bill requiring the prosecution as adults of juveniles who are charged with conspiracy to commit drug crimes.

Mr. KENNEDY- Now we have it, folks, now we have it. Remember we were just hearing a few moments ago about these particularly heinous crimes that we needed to lock these kids up for good, wave them into the adult system because the system needed to be corrected. Remember all that rhetoric.

Now we are talking about what they are really after: putting conspirators, kids, 14 years old, 8th grade, in Federal court. I mean, just now, can we understand where they are going? They are playing politics with kids. It is wrong. We need to pass this amendment.

Mr. CONYERS- This amendment is probably fundamental to the whole juvenile justice bill because now we are going to take the last resort of prosecutors: When there is nothing left, you cannot get any substantive case, you can always tack on a conspiracy charge, always. Now we are going to go to 13-year-olds and 14-year-olds to nail them. Well, one picks up his big brother's phone, and it is a drug something going on, and the kid picks up the phone. The phone is tapped. He is brought in with his brother. He says: Well, I do not even know what you are talking about. They say: Well, kid, you were not in on the drug deal but you were in on the planning of it because we have got your voice on the phone. Get him out of that, Mr. Chairman. We cannot get him out of that because the prosecutor does not have anything else to get him on. Now we are stooping to the lowest statutory tactic that prosecutors frequently, not all of them, but frequently use.

Under the legislation, if a 14-year-old commits conspiracy, they can be tried as an adult. That is the other part of this. Not only do we nail a kid on conspiracy, but under the McCollum bill, the base bill, he will be tried as an adult. Guess what kind of sentences we are talking about when an adult gets nailed for conspiracy? Mandatory minimums kick in. Nice going, nice going.

Mr. McCOLLUM-Mr. Chairman, I think that we would be very wrong if we took this out and prohibited Federal prosecutors from doing what they should be able to do at any age group where we are involved with this . . .

The bottom line is that the Justice Department has asked us to have the type of revisions that are in our bill. They support keeping the conspiracy in for a 14-year-old who is committing the kind of crime that we are trying to get at here, a drug-related crime, which this is; 15-year-old, 16-year-old, if that person is sitting in the back of the room is the organizer and director of a major criminal enterprise, drug trafficking enterprise in large quantities of drugs, which is frequently the case, he or she is actually the one we really want to get at, even though they may not actually put their hands on the drugs at all.

Ms. WATERS-Mr. Chairman, would the gentleman agree first of all that this is not limited to drugs, this is limited to all of the crimes that is identified trying juveniles as adults? And would the gentleman agree that, if a 14-year-old sits around a table with five or six other people and talks about-

Mr. McCOLLUM-Mr. Chairman, reclaiming my time, the amendment applies to all drug cases. My colleague's amendment only applies to them, not anything else. It is a conspiracy, and it will undermine the right for gang's prosecution. I oppose the amendment.

The Waters amendment did not pass-

Rep Conyers introduced an amendment to eliminate the provisions of the bill that permit prosecution of 13-year-olds as adults-the amendment did not pass

Rep Scott introduced an amendment to strike language in the bill which allows states to use crime assistance funds for building, operation, or expansion of prisons and detention centers.

Mr. SCOTT- Mr. Chairman, we already lock up more people than anywhere else on Earth. Some communities have more young men in jail than in college, and several States already spend more money for prisons than higher education. So States do not need the encouragement to build prisons, they need encouragement to spend money on other initiatives where little money can actually make a difference in public safety.

Mr. McCOLLUM-These are not prisons, these are juvenile correction and detention facilities, and we are really short on those in many of the States.We went around the country, had several big meetings with juvenile authorities all over the country over the past couple of years, and what they want are more tools, they want more probation officers; in some cases, more judges, more social workers, and, yes, more juvenile detention facilities because we want these juveniles to be housed separately from adults. But when they commit serious offenses, then we need to detain them.

Mr. FORD- Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman. Let me say that this piece of legislation sends a perverse message, Mr. Chairman, to young people in our gallery and young people throughout this Nation. As we talk about, as the gentleman from Florida [Mr. McCollum] did in this morning's newspaper, national leadership on the issue of juvenile crime, if we cannot provide national leadership in our educational system, why is it that we ought to be providing and usurping local control in the juvenile justice arena? I would submit to this body and submit even to the President of the United States, if we talk about arresting 13-year-olds and not about intervention and rehabilitation and prevention, we will be debating 2 years from now how we arrest 5-year-olds, 8-year-olds, and 11-year-olds.

Ms. JACKSON-LEE- Listen to the experts. Prevention and intervention is what this bill should have, and it does not. Vote down H.R. 3.

Mr. KENNEDY of Rhode Island- In Salt Lake City a gang prevention program led to a 30 percent reduction in gang related crimes. In Washington State, gang prevention programs reduced violence, reduced violence, that is less victims, less victims by 80 percent. The gentleman's bill puts $102,000 per cell, it costs to construct those cells, $102,000. Imagine how far that could go in putting that money behind prevention programs that work.

The Scott amendment did not pass. This bill is now in the hands of the Senate.

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