Scott Defends PROMISE Act Merger; Juvenile Advocacy Coalition Opposes It

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The bill combining Rep. Bobby Scott’s (D-Va.) Youth PROMISE Act (YPA) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) Gang Abatement and Prevention Act has been stopped from quick passage in the Senate.

A hold was placed on the Youth PROMISE and Gang Abatement Act of 2010, which would replace the final title of Feinstein’s bill with the PROMISE Act. Youth Today covered the merger yesterday; click here for that story. Information about who places holds on bills is not publically accessible.

With a deal on tax cuts and a potential fight over 2011 appropriations looming in the next two days, placement of the Senate hold reduces the possibility that the bill can be passed, get through the House and to the president’s desk during this congressional session, officially slated to end on Friday.

“I don’t know,” Scott said today, when asked about the bill’s status. “The Senate works in mysterious ways.”

Meanwhile, the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition, which comprises dozens of advocacy organizations, told Youth Today last night that it had not decided its position on the new bill. Today, the coalition appears to have settled on quiet opposition to the proposed legislation.

“Based on the feedback received over the past couple of days, the majority view of the coalition is to register our concerns about the compromise … bill with the committee chairs as well as Mr. Scott and Senator Feinstein,” coalition co-chairs Tara Andrews and Ashley Nellis wrote in an e-mail sent this morning.

“At this point, there is not support within the coalition for vocally opposing the bill and the reasons are because of our longstanding support for YPA and the concerns about a much worse bill that will likely be introduced next year,” they said.

However, the coalition wrote a letter of opposition to Scott, Feinstein and the respective chairs of judiciary committees in both houses: Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.).

The compromise bill “exposes youth under the age of 18 to prosecution and imprisonment as adults in the federal criminal justice system,” the letter from the coalition said. “Research confirms that the practice of trying and sentencing youth as adults is harmful to public safety as it makes youth more likely to commit more crimes, and at the same time it puts youth at risk of serious physical and emotional harm,” the letter stated. “Thus, despite our support for the Youth PROMISE Act, we are compelled to oppose this bill.”

Andrews did not return requests for information about the coalition’s position.

Scott himself agrees that the bill is fraught with provisions he does not support.

“I agree with coalition’s position that some of the language is unnecessary and detracts from the bill,” the congressman told Youth Today. “Some of the provisions are problematic, and my judgment is that the provisions should not be in a bill. They suggest that we ought to be rounding up people wholesale.”

But Scott said he believes that ultimately, Feinstein’s provisions do not penalize anything that isn’t already covered under federal racketeering or conspiracy laws.

“To recruit for the purpose of committing crimes – and it’s hard to imagine a prosecution if crimes weren’t committed – the act of recruiting would be covered” in existing laws, he said.

Barry Krisberg, a senior fellow with the University of California-Berkeley and former president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, has performed a similar analysis and said he supports the compromise bill. When he was in charge at NCCD, the organization published this analysis of the two bills, which was critical of the Feinstein bill and supportive of the PROMISE Act.

“Scott stood up against the Gang Abatement Act when there was nobody else,” Krisberg said. He credits Scott with stopping movement on the bill in the House after it passed the Senate with an overwhelming majority in 2007.

“If he thinks this is the best deal we can get, then I’m inclined to agree.”

Unlike Scott, Krisberg believes the provisions simply won’t be used.   

“I have serious problems with the compromise with exposing youth to prosecution,” he said, but “I believe those provisions will fall apart because they’re unworkable” in the actual practice of prosecuting crimes.

He expects that, partly due to limited federal detention space for juveniles, “some of the provisions will fall apart of their own accord.”

Meanwhile, he said, most states are facing budget shortfalls and tough choices about cuts to youth services.

“If there’s a way to get some federal funding to communities to do good things, I’m for it,” he said.