Sign-on Letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee and to Senate Majority and Minority Leaders Expressing Concerns about the Recently Introduced ""Gang Prevention"" Legislation (S. 1735)

November 14, 2003

Dear Senators Hatch and Feinstein: 

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On behalf of the undersigned organizations and the national Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition we are writing at this time to express our deep concern about your recently introduced ""Gang Prevention"" legislation (S. 1735).  Specifically, we strongly oppose provisions in your legislation which would result in more youth prosecuted as adults in the federal system and more youth prosecuted generally in the federal system.

We urge you to eliminate any provisions in your legislation that would result in the expanded "transfer" or "waiver" of youth to the adult criminal system and/or placing an additional number of youth in adult correctional facilities.  Comprehensive national research on the practice of prosecuting youth in the adult system has shown conclusively that transferring youth to the adult criminal justice system does nothing to reduce crime and actually has the opposite effect.  In fact, study after study has shown that youth transferred to the adult criminal justice system are more likely to re-offend and to commit more serious crimes upon release than youth who were charged with similar offenses and had similar offense histories but remained in the juvenile justice system.

Moreover, national data show that young people incarcerated with adults are five times as likely to report being a victim of rape, twice as likely to be beaten by staff and 50% more likely to be assaulted with a weapon than youth held in juvenile facilities.  A Justice Department report also found that youth confined in adult facilities are nearly 8 times more likely to commit suicide than youth in juvenile facilities.

We also believe that placing the decision of whether to prosecute a youth as an adult in the sole discretion of  a prosecutor, with no ability to file an appeal, violates basic notions of fairness and due process.

While there is no question that violent and dangerous youth need to be securely confined for our safety and theirs, incarcerating youth with more sophisticated adult prisoners renders them vulnerable to attack and more damaged when they return to society.   This is tantamount to giving up on them - something we should never do.  

We also oppose the provisions which would allow youth to be prosecuted in federal court based solely on a federal prosecutor certifying that there is a substantial federal interest to do so.  Such a change would unnecessarily federalize many juvenile crimes, an approach opposed previously by prominent federal officials including Chief Justice Rehnquist and former Attorney General Edwin Meese III.  Further, it is clear that the federal system is completely unequipped to handle youthful offenders, with no specialized facilities or programs of the type that are available through state juvenile courts.

Our challenge as responsible adults is to create a fairer and more effective youth justice system, where there is a balance between prevention, treatment and intervention that gives young people a chance to make a better choice.  

We appreciate your consideration of our concerns.  If you have questions please feel free to contact the Co-Chair of the national Juvenile Justice Coalition's Youth Law Center.

Sincerely,

Advocates for Children & Youth of Maryland
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
American Civil Liberties Union
American Friends Service Committee
American Probation and Parole Association
Black Children's Institute of Tennessee 
Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice
Children's Action Alliance of Arizona
Children's Alliance of New Hampshire
Children's Defense Fund
Child Welfare League of America
Children's Campaign, Inc. of Florida
Children's Law Center of Kentucky
Church Women United
Citizens for Juvenile Justice, Massachusetts 
Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance
Delaware Center for Justice
Detention Ministry, Archdiocese of Los Angeles
Girls Incorporated
Human Rights Watch
Institute for Community Peace
Institute for Peace and Justice, St. Louis, MO
Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health
Juvenile Justice Initiative of Illinois
Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana
Juvenile Law Center
Justice Policy Institute
Legal Aid Justice Center, Charlottesville, Virginia
Legal Services for Children of San Francisco
Legislative Advocacy Clinic, Yale Law School
Los Angeles Youth Justice Coalition
Maryland Juvenile Justice Coalition
Mennonite Central Committee U.S., Washington Office
Mexican American Legal Defense Fund
Michigan Council of Crime & Delinquency
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Association of School Psychologists
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
National Center for Youth Law
National Collaboration for Youth
National Council of La Raza
National Council on Crime & Delinquency
National Foster Care Coalition
National Mental Health Association
National Urban League
National Youth Employment Coalition
New England Juvenile Defender Center
North Carolina Child Advocacy Institute
Northwest Juvenile Defender Center
Pacific Juvenile Defender Center
Parent Support Network of Rhode Island
Parents Who Care Coalition of South Dakota
Penal Reform International
Philadelphia Citizens for Children & Youth
Presbyterian Church (USA) Washington Office
Sar Levitan Center at Johns Hopkins University, Institute of Policy Studies
School Social Work Association of America
Society for Research in Child Development
South Dakota Peace and Justice Center
UMC General Board of Church and Society
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
Virginia Coalition for Juvenile Justice
Voices for America's Children
Voices for Children in Nebraska
Voices for Florida's Children
Volunteers of America
Wisconsin Council on Children and Families
Youth Advocate Program International
Youth Build USA
Youth Law Center

cc:       

Members, Senate Judiciary Committee
The Honorable William Frist, Senate Majority Leader
The Honorable Thomas Daschle, Senate Minority Leader

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