Juvenile Justice Act II—‘Déjà vu All Over Again’

Bill Howard
March 1, 1998

Powers at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are behaving as if the continuing sharp drop-off in violent youth crime since 1994 never happened.

President Clinton and GOP leaders on Capitol Hill are back at it, vying in a second go-around to see who can make over the 23-year-old Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act with the most repressive crime control measures possible, giving only lip service to prevention.

To the chagrin of youth advocates, the political combatants appear to be ignoring hard evidence community-based programs that provide strong neighborhood supports for young people who already are in trouble — and help others stay out of it — are having more effect in lowering crime rates than hiring more prosecutors and building more jails.

"It is truly astounding," said Mark Solar, director of the Juvenile Law Center, a corrections watchdog group, of the plethora of "get tough" proposals now up for consideration. "So much money is being talked about and longer and longer sentences— mandatory minimums that are very, very long. Very broad discretion by prosecutors. Very broad definitions of gang behavior.

"All of these are designed to sweep up large numbers of kids into the system. Yet there's a denial that still only a very small percentage of kids are committing violent crimes — not anything like the majority of kids — and that the incidence of violent crime is going down now. The political posturing is independent of any data— like don't bother me with facts."

Grumbles Hunter Hurst, a top researcher who heads the Pittsburgh based National Center for Juvenile Justice: "Crime control begins at home and in the fabric of our neighborhoods. And we're acting like it begins with the police department and the prison system and the court system. Surely, who would design what we've been crafting in Congress for the past two years for our own children? I don't want to subject my kids to the death penalty at age six!"

A veteran of last year's stormy yet futile juvenile justice reauthorization battle was asked how she thought it would finally shake out — and when. Her reply: "Who knows? It's deja vu all over again."

How About an OJCCP?

All during the last session of Congress, the Clinton Administration sat on the sidelines refusing to offer a reauthorization plan for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) though it pushed for trying youths as young as 16 as adults for firearm, drug and other serious federal offenses.

Now, it has shifted gears and is proposing to replace OJJDP with a new Office of Juvenile Crime Control and Prevention (OJCCP) and greatly step up the war on drugs, guns and gangs by ponying up $200 million over two years to expand local prosecutors' offices to pursue youthful felony offenders. Plus, spend $50 million on special "youth violence courts" dealing with gun and drug offenses.

Attorney General Janet Reno testified Feb. 26 on behalf of the Administration's juvenile justice reauthorization which is sort of an after-thought in H.R. 810, the Anti-Gang and Youth Violence program announced by Clinton Feb. 18 in Boston. At the House hearing chaired by Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.) of the Judiciary's Crime Subcommittee, Reno echoed Clinton's Boston hard line that today's record 52 million school children means "we've got about six years to turn this juvenile crime thing around or our country is going to be living in chaos."

McCollum told the hearing "the president is absolutely right about the coming storm of juvenile crime," the scary forecast of a couple of years ago by Princeton researcher John Dilulio — but since downgraded by other researchers. The forecast was the basis for McCollum's Violent Youth Predator Act in the last session that stirred angry protests by youth advocates (YT Sept./Oct. 1996). He's reintroduced the same bill this year as the milder-sounding Juvenile Crime Control Act (H.R 3) — but just as harsh on kids.

Bye-Bye Mandates?

Tough as the Clinton bill tries to be, S. 3 sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and other Republicans is even tougher. Where Clinton would water down the JJDP Act's mandates to hold youths entirely apart from adults in jails, forbid the locking up of status offenders and reduce disproportionate confinement of minority youth. Hatch's measure would eliminate the mandates altogether. Only a requirement that Juvenile offenders "not have regular physical contact" with adult jail inmates would be retained.

That notion doesn't please Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) who warned the McCollum hearing "let's be very careful about mixing kids with adults in prisons" because studies show it doesn't reduce crime— only increases the recidivism rate.

The Republican three-year, $1.5 billion plan would give state and local governments grants to apply adult penalties to the most dangerous convicted juveniles. Funds also could be applied to building more juvenile detention centers and installing systems of graduated sanctions. Youthful drug traffickers as young as 14 could be tried as adults and subject to the death penalty or life imprisonment for dealing in 100 or more doses. Juveniles would have to serve out their full sentences as long as it takes after reaching 21. States would be funded to fingerprint juvenile offenders, conduct DNA tests on them and share their criminal records with other law enforcement agencies and the public.

As for prevention, Reno said the Administration would earmark $75 million in Education Department funds for an "at-risk children initiative" to combat truancy and school violence. Plus, another $62 million would be available for generating a thousand in school after-school programs for kids. (See chart.)

The Republican bill sets aside $100 million to fund the construction of Boys & Girls Clubs of America in public housing and economically depressed neighbor-hoods with the goal of ensuring there are 2,000 of them by the year 2000 — a number the agency has just about attained already with the help on an annual $20 million Office of Justice Programs grant.

Such fixation on increasing Boys and Girls Clubs to the exclusion of other community based youth-serving programs has incensed Dean Tice, head of the National Parks and Recreation Association. At a recent meeting, he castigated the federal B&GC subsidies as "dirty appropriations."

Clinton and Senate Democrats also have weighed in with major new anti-drug legislation that, among other things, would help expand the police-administered in-school Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program that drug czar Barry McCaffrey amazingly still calls "highly effective" despite numerous evaluations that have found it has essentially no effect in preventing kids from taking drugs.

Where Credit Is Due

What researcher Hunter Hurst finds discouraging in Congress' rush to crack down on violent juvenile crime is its refusal to face facts.

"It's curious to me, for example, at the same time all other institutions
are being damned for creating the problem," he said in a telephone interview, "the Boys and Girls Clubs are being rewarded as if they haven't like all of us been a party to the failure to stem the tide.

"And nobody in Washington is talking about who deserves the credit for four straight years of decline in juvenile crime — especially the heavy decline in the last two years. Neither the federal government nor the state governments can claim credit because none of the new (get tough) policies being called for were in place to account for what's happened in the last two years.

"What they're all ignoring is the tremendous impact community-based services have had on crime. Here in Pittsburgh our Part 1 felony crime rate in 1995 and 1996 was at 1965 and 1966 levels. That's due to the almost Herculean efforts at the community level here beginning in 1990-91. Nothing fancy. Just hard work with people coming together to agree on priorities — especially on juvenile crime prevention."

Among the top priorities: creation of family support centers to concentrate on the unborn and the recently born — "taking the focus off those hurting us the most at the moment because we may have lost that ballgame," he said. Over the years neighborhoods also have put into place strong job training and educational supports for youth returning from institutions. "Every neighborhood organization — Y’s, youth clubs, churches — has been a part of that" as well as better community policing.

What communities need from Washington, Hurst said, is "strong encouragement" to pursue these priorities at the local level, adding:

”The state in a free society is never going to be the salvation for crime control. Never. The social fabric has to be the source of crime control. The informal social mechanism and the formal social mechanism are the heart of crime prevention and crime control. And we're behaving as if we can just by brute force stop crime in this country. We should know better than that— only one in five crimes are ever cleared. If we locked every one of those suckers up, 80 percent of the problem remains."

Another issue missed by Washington in the debate over violent juvenile crime.


Howard, Bill. "

Powers at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are behaving as if the continuing sharp drop-off in violent youth crime since 1994 never happened.

President Clinton and GOP leaders on Capitol Hill are back at it, vying in a second go-around to see who can make over the 23-year-old Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act with the most repressive crime control measures possible, giving only lip service to prevention.

To the chagrin of youth advocates, the political combatants appear to be ignoring hard evidence community-based programs that provide strong neighborhood supports for young people who already are in trouble — and help others stay out of it — are having more effect in lowering crime rates than hiring more prosecutors and building more jails.

"It is truly astounding," said Mark Solar, director of the Juvenile Law Center, a corrections watchdog group, of the plethora of "get tough" proposals now up for consideration. "So much money is being talked about and longer and longer sentences— mandatory minimums that are very, very long. Very broad discretion by prosecutors. Very broad definitions of gang behavior.

"All of these are designed to sweep up large numbers of kids into the system. Yet there's a denial that still only a very small percentage of kids are committing violent crimes — not anything like the majority of kids — and that the incidence of violent crime is going down now. The political posturing is independent of any data— like don't bother me with facts."

Grumbles Hunter Hurst, a top researcher who heads the Pittsburgh based National Center for Juvenile Justice: "Crime control begins at home and in the fabric of our neighborhoods. And we're acting like it begins with the police department and the prison system and the court system. Surely, who would design what we've been crafting in Congress for the past two years for our own children? I don't want to subject my kids to the death penalty at age six!"

A veteran of last year's stormy yet futile juvenile justice reauthorization battle was asked how she thought it would finally shake out — and when. Her reply: "Who knows? It's deja vu all over again."

How About an OJCCP?

All during the last session of Congress, the Clinton Administration sat on the sidelines refusing to offer a reauthorization plan for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) though it pushed for trying youths as young as 16 as adults for firearm, drug and other serious federal offenses.

Now, it has shifted gears and is proposing to replace OJJDP with a new Office of Juvenile Crime Control and Prevention (OJCCP) and greatly step up the war on drugs, guns and gangs by ponying up $200 million over two years to expand local prosecutors' offices to pursue youthful felony offenders. Plus, spend $50 million on special "youth violence courts" dealing with gun and drug offenses.

Attorney General Janet Reno testified Feb. 26 on behalf of the Administration's juvenile justice reauthorization which is sort of an after-thought in H.R. 810, the Anti-Gang and Youth Violence program announced by Clinton Feb. 18 in Boston. At the House hearing chaired by Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.) of the Judiciary's Crime Subcommittee, Reno echoed Clinton's Boston hard line that today's record 52 million school children means "we've got about six years to turn this juvenile crime thing around or our country is going to be living in chaos."

McCollum told the hearing "the president is absolutely right about the coming storm of juvenile crime," the scary forecast of a couple of years ago by Princeton researcher John Dilulio — but since downgraded by other researchers. The forecast was the basis for McCollum's Violent Youth Predator Act in the last session that stirred angry protests by youth advocates (YT Sept./Oct. 1996). He's reintroduced the same bill this year as the milder-sounding Juvenile Crime Control Act (H.R 3) — but just as harsh on kids.

Bye-Bye Mandates?

Tough as the Clinton bill tries to be, S. 3 sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and other Republicans is even tougher. Where Clinton would water down the JJDP Act's mandates to hold youths entirely apart from adults in jails, forbid the locking up of status offenders and reduce disproportionate confinement of minority youth. Hatch's measure would eliminate the mandates altogether. Only a requirement that Juvenile offenders "not have regular physical contact" with adult jail inmates would be retained.

That notion doesn't please Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) who warned the McCollum hearing "let's be very careful about mixing kids with adults in prisons" because studies show it doesn't reduce crime— only increases the recidivism rate.

The Republican three-year, $1.5 billion plan would give state and local governments grants to apply adult penalties to the most dangerous convicted juveniles. Funds also could be applied to building more juvenile detention centers and installing systems of graduated sanctions. Youthful drug traffickers as young as 14 could be tried as adults and subject to the death penalty or life imprisonment for dealing in 100 or more doses. Juveniles would have to serve out their full sentences as long as it takes after reaching 21. States would be funded to fingerprint juvenile offenders, conduct DNA tests on them and share their criminal records with other law enforcement agencies and the public.

As for prevention, Reno said the Administration would earmark $75 million in Education Department funds for an "at-risk children initiative" to combat truancy and school violence. Plus, another $62 million would be available for generating a thousand in school after-school programs for kids. (See chart.)

The Republican bill sets aside $100 million to fund the construction of Boys & Girls Clubs of America in public housing and economically depressed neighbor-hoods with the goal of ensuring there are 2,000 of them by the year 2000 — a number the agency has just about attained already with the help on an annual $20 million Office of Justice Programs grant.

Such fixation on increasing Boys and Girls Clubs to the exclusion of other community based youth-serving programs has incensed Dean Tice, head of the National Parks and Recreation Association. At a recent meeting, he castigated the federal B&GC subsidies as "dirty appropriations."

Clinton and Senate Democrats also have weighed in with major new anti-drug legislation that, among other things, would help expand the police-administered in-school Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program that drug czar Barry McCaffrey amazingly still calls "highly effective" despite numerous evaluations that have found it has essentially no effect in preventing kids from taking drugs.

Where Credit Is Due

What researcher Hunter Hurst finds discouraging in Congress' rush to crack down on violent juvenile crime is its refusal to face facts.

"It's curious to me, for example, at the same time all other institutions
are being damned for creating the problem," he said in a telephone interview, "the Boys and Girls Clubs are being rewarded as if they haven't like all of us been a party to the failure to stem the tide.

"And nobody in Washington is talking about who deserves the credit for four straight years of decline in juvenile crime — especially the heavy decline in the last two years. Neither the federal government nor the state governments can claim credit because none of the new (get tough) policies being called for were in place to account for what's happened in the last two years.

"What they're all ignoring is the tremendous impact community-based services have had on crime. Here in Pittsburgh our Part 1 felony crime rate in 1995 and 1996 was at 1965 and 1966 levels. That's due to the almost Herculean efforts at the community level here beginning in 1990-91. Nothing fancy. Just hard work with people coming together to agree on priorities — especially on juvenile crime prevention."

Among the top priorities: creation of family support centers to concentrate on the unborn and the recently born — "taking the focus off those hurting us the most at the moment because we may have lost that ballgame," he said. Over the years neighborhoods also have put into place strong job training and educational supports for youth returning from institutions. "Every neighborhood organization — Y’s, youth clubs, churches — has been a part of that" as well as better community policing.

What communities need from Washington, Hurst said, is "strong encouragement" to pursue these priorities at the local level, adding:

”The state in a free society is never going to be the salvation for crime control. Never. The social fabric has to be the source of crime control. The informal social mechanism and the formal social mechanism are the heart of crime prevention and crime control. And we're behaving as if we can just by brute force stop crime in this country. We should know better than that— only one in five crimes are ever cleared. If we locked every one of those suckers up, 80 percent of the problem remains."

Another issue missed by Washington in the debate over violent juvenile crime.


Howard, Bill. "Juvenile Justice Act II—‘Déjà vu All Over Again’." Youth Today, March/April 1997, p. 38-39.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.


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