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Youth PROMISE Act: Recognition That it Takes a Village to Raise a Child

Jennifer Bellamy,
Senior Legislative Counsel
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May 7, 2009

(Originally posted on The Hill’s Congress Blog.)

We know how to stop the violence.

And the full name of the solution says it all: the Youth Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support and Education Act, otherwise known as the Youth PROMISE Act.

This legislation breaks the cycle of violence by getting at its root causes. It will help to curb youth violence and gang activity by investing in proven, evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies that localities develop in partnership with the modern day village, namely our schools, nonprofits, community centers, parents and young people.

For too long, many of our communities have suffered the consequence of crime and gang activities. For too long, we have pursued policies that are neither smart nor effective. For too long, we have given up hope that young people caught up in the vicious cycle known as the school-to-prison pipeline will ever become productive members of society.

That needs to stop. We don’t have to continue to turn our backs on disadvantaged communities or the young people living within them.

That’s why a broad coalition of civil rights, religious and juvenile justice organizations and advocates plan to call or write their congressional delegations, urging them to co-sponsor and immediately pass the Youth PROMISE Act (H.R. 1064 in the House of Representatives and S. 435 in the Senate).

This much needed legislation directs resources to evidence-based and 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 (PCCs) that will develop action plans for safer communities that aims to achieve that goal through the active engagement and support of at-risk youth.

The Youth PROMISE Act has strong bipartisan support. In February, Representatives Robert Scott (D-Va.) and Michael Castle (R-Del.) introduced legislation in the House and Senators Robert Casey (D-Pa.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) introduced a companion bill in the Senate. Since then, 83 co-sponsors have joined this effort in the House, as well as six in the Senate. Clearly, the bills have diverse backing inside and outside Congress. Now Congress needs to act.

Unlike in the past, we now have the benefit of knowing what approaches really work. Today, as the United States holds, by far, the world’s dubious distinction of lead incarcerator, it is time to start really supporting and investing in approaches that are both smart and effective. It’s time to give evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies the resources to work nationwide. The research in certain areas and states is already very promising. We have to put the power to fight violence in the hands of communities most affected by it. The Youth PROMISE empowers communities to fight crime, while providing some of our most at-risk young people with a more hopeful future.

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