Open today’s newspaper, and I bet that you’ll find at least one story about gun violence. From Newtown to Chicago to Aurora, this last year has put a spotlight on the need to address this violence in a way that creates lasting change.
So how exactly do we break the cycle? The answer is simple: we have to stop violence at the root. We have to save our children from a system that pushes them toward a life of crime rather than a hopeful future. We have to support the Youth PROMISE Act.
For the fourth consecutive Congress, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) has introduced the Youth Prison Reduction Through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support and Education (PROMISE) Act, a bill that will help to curb youth violence and gang activity by investing in proven, evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies.
The stories of mass shootings like the tragedy at Sandy Hook are shocking and newsworthy, but they only represent part of the large and expansive nature of youth violence and crime. In 2010, nearly 5,000 young people under 18 were victims of homicide. Juveniles make up almost 14% of the all violent crime. In turn, an average of 70,000 youths are incarcerated daily, diminishing the future potential of young people by stigmatizing them and saddling them with education, housing, and employment hurdles for the rest of their lives.
To protect young people from violent crime and to deter them from violent activities, the Youth PROMISE Act recognizes that we need to move away from ineffective policies that focus on punishment and incarceration and instead focus on policies that focus on proven prevention and intervention strategies. This much-needed legislation directs resources to community-oriented programs that support children and their families, while reducing rates of delinquency, violence and street gang activity. It calls for representatives from law enforcement, community organizations, schools, social services, as well as health and mental health providers, to form Promise Coordinating Councils that will develop action plans for safer communities that aim to achieve that goal through the active engagement and support of at-risk youth.
A recent post on the Huffington Post written by actress Robin Wright and lawyer Carol Chodroff explained the potential potency of the bill. Unlike most current crime legislation, the authors write, the Youth PROMISE Act “addresses the root causes of violence, and empowers local communities by bolstering strengths, investing in what works, and engaging community stakeholders to come together on behalf of our youth.”
Given the horrific violent events of the last year, the renewed sense of urgency around the Youth PROMISE Act makes perfect sense. Rep. Scott’s bill is backed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties, and more than fifty Congressional co-sponsors, a clear sign that Congress needs to act.
The time has come to get serious about youth crime and violence. Too many young futures are being ruined, while too many young people feel they are trapped in a cycle of violence they cannot escape. Too much money is being spent on failed policies, and we are finding far too little success with the current approach. The time has come to move forward with the Youth PROMISE Act.
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