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JUNE 16, 1999  8:09 PM
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT:
Youth Law Center
Marc Schindler/Mark Soler, Youth Law Center (202) 637-0377 Vincent Schiraldi/Jason Ziedenberg, Justice Policy Institute (202) 678-9282
House Votes To Incarcerate 13-year-olds With Adults And Federalize Local Crimes; Congressman McCollum's Subterfuge Cuts Off Debate Over Controversial Measures
 
WASHINGTON - June 16 - In a shameless attempt to divert attention from their effort to defeat gun control measures, conservative House Republicans led the charge to push through draconian juvenile justice legislation which had failed to become law in the last three years. The measure, offered by Congressman Bill McCollum (R-FL-8th) would result in giving federal prosecutors unfettered discretion to try youth as young as 13-years-old in adult court and create new mandatory sentencing requirements for youthful offenders. The McCollum amendment, containing controversial provisions which had drawn severe criticism in recent years, has gone largely unnoticed by the public and media as debate has focused on gun control and cultural issues.

In taking this action, McCollum has thrown out the juvenile justice legislation which he had written and cosponsored and which was unanimously agreed to just over a month ago in the House Judiciary's Crime Subcommittee. In its place, McCollum pushed through controversial legislation which would result in children being incarcerated in adult correctional facilities, where studies have already shown that juveniles are in much greater danger compared to youth held in juvenile facilities. The research has shown that youth in adult prisons are eight times more likely to commit suicide and five times more likely to be raped and sexually abused than youth held in juvenile facilities.

Because the Republican leadership by-passed the full Judiciary Committee and sent the juvenile crime legislation directly to the House floor, there was limited debate and no testimony or hearings on these highly controversial provisions. Further, the leadership's maneuver disallowed voting on ammendments which would have funded crime prevention. "Congressman McCollum is once again exhibiting the mean-spirited and irrational approach we've seen him try in the past," stated Mark Soler, President of the Youth Law Center. "This year, he has added a new twist to his tactics, a legislative sleight-of-hand to cut off debate on this important public safety issue."

Vincent Schiraldi, Director of the Justice Policy Institute, noted that in 1998, his organization and the Youth Law Center conducted a public opinion survey which found that respondents opposed giving prosecutors sole discretion to try juveniles as adults by a 56% to 41% margin, with almost twice as many respondents opposing the idea strongly (29%) as those supporting the idea strongly (16%). "This isn't public policy, it's an excuse for public policy which isn't even popular with the public," Schiraldi noted. "Of all people, Congressman McCollum, as a former House Prosecutor in the impeachment proceedings, ought to know that this is not the year to be extending the unfettered reach of prosecutors."

Marc Schindler, Staff Attorney with the Youth Law Center, "In the three years Congressman McCollum has had juvenile justice legislation pending, he never once mentioned mandatory sentences for juveniles. Congressman McCollum's pandering and reckless actions will do nothing to keep our kids and communities safe." Schindler also noted that there are stacks of research, much of it funded by Congress, which speak to the ineffectiveness of mandatory sentences and the fact that they often fall most heavily on minorities. The Justice Policy Institute is a policy development a research body which promotes effective and sensible approaches to reforming America's justice system.

The Youth Law Center is a national public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the rights of minors nationwide. For more information on the juvenile justice legislation and other juvenile crime initiatives, please contact the Justice Policy Institute at (202) 678-9282, or the Youth Law Center at (202) 637-0377. You can visit JPI's website at www.cjcj.org, or page Vincent Schiraldi at (800)581-1572.

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