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New interest in the Youth PROMISE Act spearheaded by Sen. Landrieu

28th July 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Kari Dequine Harden
Contributing Writer

Focusing on preventative measures, there is a renewed push in Washington D.C. to pass legislation aimed at keeping young people out of the juvenile justice system.

First introduced in 2009, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) was one of the original co-sponsors of the Youth PROMISE Act along with Sen. James Inhofe, (R-OK).

Landrieu contends that tax dollars are better spent on the front end by addressing mental health issues and other factors that contribute to violence, rather than the billions spent on locking people up in the “overbuilt” prison system.

The “Youth Prison Reduction Through Opportunities, Mentor­ing, Intervention, Support and Education Act” calls for about $17 million in federal funding, in an effort to “fund, implement, and evaluate an array of evidence­based, locally controlled youth and gang violence prevention and intervention practices.”

The bipartisan bill never made it into law, but has more recently been reintroduced in the house by Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-­VA) and Rep. Walter Jones (R-­NC). Tulane University criminologist Dr. Peter Scharf was one of the bill’s authors.

A handful of celebrities have joined more than 250 national, state, and local organizations in a show of support for the bill.

“We must act to stop the heartbreaking cycle of violence that traps so many of our young people,” Landrieu said in a 2013 press release. “Studies show that early childhood programs, summer school programs, mentoring, after-school programs and job-training programs can lead to decreased youth arrests. The Youth PROMISE Act invests in programs like these that we know to be effective, as well as efforts to bring together community members and organizations concerned with the safety and welfare of children.”

In addition to safer communities and an increased quality of life for all, the advocates of the preventative approach tout major financial benefits. On average, supporters say that implementing legislation like the Youth PROMISE Act could save $5 for every $1 of preventative investment.

To house a young person in secure care for a year costs between $50,000 and $100,000, while it “costs only $5,000 a year to serve a youth in a community based setting,” according to the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL).

The key elements of the Youth PROMISE Act work to center the decision-making process at the community level, and require that communities demonstrate measurable success by stipulating that 85 percent of funding be spent directly on programs.

It also creates an advisory panel made up of state representatives and local coordinating councils, which will develop and customize plans for their individual communities by directly engaging youth, community and faith-based groups, schools, parents, courts and law enforcement, health providers, social services, and nonprofit groups.

A National Research Center for Proven Juvenile Justice Practices will be established under the act, as well as regional research partnerships with colleges and universities.

According to The Peace Alliance, one of the groups which supports turning the bill into law, “Policy-making today tends to be reactive rather than proactive. We wait for violence to occur, and then turn to our already over-taxed military and police and ask them to fix it. We must shift the focus from reaction to prevention, allowing us to save billions of dollars and countless lives each year.”

This article originally published in the July 28, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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