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A PROMISE to Youth to Break the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Ian S. Thompson,
Senior Legislative Advocate,
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December 4, 2008

Yesterday, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Chair of the House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee, convened a terrific Capitol Hill summit on smart, effective ways to prevent youth violence. The half-day event brought nationally-renowned experts and juvenile justice reform advocates together to discuss evidence-based strategies for juvenile justice prevention and early intervention (a.k.a. working with children who are at risk to keep acts of violence from ever happening in the first place). In particular, the day served as a good momentum builder for Rep. Scott’s Youth PROMISE (Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, Education) Act in the upcoming 111th Congress.

Marian Write Edelman, the legendary social justice advocate and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, got the day started off with an inspiring discussion, in which she called on those of us present to help end the over-criminalization of children by working to support efforts like the Youth PROMISE Act that aim to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline while supporting young people and their families; making communities safer; reducing rates of victimization; and helping at-risk youth lead law-abiding and healthy lives, free of gangs, delinquency and violence.

The Youth PROMISE Act is unique among proposals being considered in Congress aimed at curbing youth violence. Several of the other gang bills that have been introduced in Congress, result in federalizing ordinary street crime that should be handled at the state level. Rather than funneling more young people into the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems and laying a foundation for committing future offenses, the Youth PROMISE Act builds upon evidence-based practices that have been proven to reduce rates of violence and delinquency. It is a true “bottom-up” approach that works with community leaders and youth at the local level to begin to address significant unmet needs and prevent crimes from ever occurring in the first place.

Another highlight of the day came with the release of a new report from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency on the various gang bills that have been proposed in Congress and concluded that:

Research and NCCD’s experiences strongly favor the practices promoted in the Youth PROMISE Act.

Additionally, in the Youth PROMISE Act’s rejection of the same-old-same-old, “get tough” approaches of the past, which have only resulted in putting more young people behind bars, the Council stated:

The Youth PROMISE Act appropriately rejects these failed policies, and embraces what years of research and practice have proven — that with the right programs, our youth can not only stay out of trouble but also have promising futures.

Here’s hoping that message comes across loud and clear when the new Congress gets started next month.

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