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JUNE 16, 1999  10:04 PM
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT:
Childrens Defense Fund
Grace Reef, 202-662-3558 Charles Fulwood 202-662-3613
Childrens Defense Fund Opposes Hyde/McCollum Juvenile Crime Bill
 
WASHINGTON - June 16 - The Children's Defense Fund (CDF) today urged Members of the U.S. House of Representatives to oppose the new Hyde/McCollum juvenile crime bill and to adopt prevention programs to keep children safe and out of trouble.

Under the pending juvenile crime bill in the House, more children would be tried as adults, which would place children at risk of assault and abuse in adult jails. The Hyde/McCollum amendment adopted today gives federal prosecutors rather than judges the discretion to try children as adults, lowers the age to 13 in some cases in which children can be tried as adults in the federal system, and broadens the scope of federal crimes for which juveniles can be tried as adults. More children would be placed in adult jails with no prohibition on contact with adults. These children could even be placed in the same jail cell as an adult.

"With as much progress as we made on keeping children separate from adults in the Senate passed bill, it is simply incredible that the House would choose to now turn the clock back 25 years to a time when children routinely were housed with adults in adult jails," said Children's Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edelman. "Study after study has shown the dangers children face in adult jails. Children are eight times more likely to commit suicide, five times more likely to be sexually assaulted, and twice as likely to be assaulted by staff in adult jails than in juvenile facilities."

The Hyde/McCollum bill would impose new mandatory minimum sentences for children and allow for broad dissemination of juvenile records. "Mandatory minimums are a mistake for children. For years, the juvenile justice system has been geared toward rehabilitating youth, but mandatory minimum sentences go in the opposite direction," said Edelman.

"I am also troubled by provisions in this legislation that would allow juvenile records to be shared with law enforcement, courts, the FBI, and schools, including schools in which the child is seeking to enroll. Broad dissemination of these records would have devastating consequences for the future employment and education of many children. The majority appears to want to write-off large numbers of children. But, two-thirds of those who commit a first offense, never commit another one. Have we slipped back so far as a society that we are beyond attempting to rehabilitate our youth?"

"This legislation is about politics, not policy. Prevention programs work and are cost effective. But, there is little in this bill in the way of prevention. Given the recent tragedies in Colorado, Georgia, Arkansas, and other states, it is unfortunate that the House decided not to focus on prevention programs to ensure that our schools and communities are safe and that at-risk children have mentors in the community to follow. Instead, the House focused on providing a small percentage of children who come into contact with the law with new adult mentors * adult inmates at federal penitentiaries."

"We hope to work with the members of the conference committee to restore balance to our nation's approach to working with troubled youth," said Edelman.

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