Scott Merges PROMISE Act with Feinstein Gang Bill

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Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) has made a deal with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to merge their very different crime prevention bills and the deal has cost Scott the support of some major juvenile justice advocates.

Feinstein’s bill would establish definitions of gangs, gang crimes, increase the federal role in prosecuting gang crimes and increase the potential sentences for them. Scott’s would enable community coalitions to develop crime prevention strategies and implement them.

Feinstein “hotlined” the newly merged bills in the Senate on Friday, which means she asked that the bill pass by unanimous consent, with no floor vote or debate. If no senator objects, the bill passes goes to the House for approval. The deadline to object is not known.

The new bill – entitled the Youth PROMISE and Gang Abatement Act of 2010 – would essentially tack Scott’s bill onto Feinstein’s Gang Abatement and Prevention Act.

The Youth Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education (PROMISE) was conceived to put billions of dollars toward keeping youth away from the violence of street gangs, and not by placing them in jails.

It would allow community councils in areas with large numbers of youth at risk from gangs and violence to create plans aimed at filling the voids in youths' lives that make them receptive to gangs and crime.

Feinstein’s bill did include funding for crime prevention and intervention strategies, and the newly merged bill substitutes the PROMISE Act language in for that.

In the Senate bill, however, all of the PROMISE Act funding authorizations are listed as “such sums as necessary.” Likewise, all of the authorizations for Feinstein’s provisions, which in previous versions totaled close to $300 million, are also listed as “such sums as necessary.”

Scott has vehemently opposed reconciling his bill with Feinstein’s in the past. In December of 2008, Scott discussed his disagreements with the Feinstein bill in an interview with Youth Today.

“The fact is, there is no research that would lead anyone to believe that increasing penalties from where they are now would do anything to reduce crime,” Scott said. “People are so accustomed ... to expect counterproductive nonsense as part of crime bills. Why accept more juveniles tried as adults when that increases the crime rate?”

Feinstein relaxed the language on her parts of the bill that were most likely to expose juvenile offenders. The definition of gangs was narrowed, and language about penalties applied for gang recruitment were changed so that they would only affect people over the age of 21.

It remains to be seen whether Feinstein’s changes will persuade juvenile justice advocates, many of whom opposed her bill and supported the PROMISE Act. Some have withdrawn support for the PROMISE Act after the merger.

“We oppose the Feinstein-Scott compromise that was hotlined in the Senate on Friday,” said Liz Ryan, CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice.

The National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition, which includes the campaign and dozens of other juvenile justice-related organizations, is expected to take a position on the bill tomorrow, according to its chair, Tara Andrews.