As of last night (6/17), the provisions most feared by criminal justice reformers were passed as amendments to the House juvenile justice bill, H.R. 1501. The new bill will give federal prosecutors, rather than the judges, the discretion to try children as adults, in some cases lowering the age to as low as 13, and would allow children to be placed in adult jails, even in the same jail cell with adults. The bill also imposes new mandatory minimum sentences for children.
In a statement issued yesterday, Children's Defense Fund president Marian Wright Edelman said, "With as much progress as we made on keeping children separate from adults in the Senate passed bill, it is simply incredible that the House would choose to now turn the clock back 25 years to a time when children routinely were housed with adults in adult jails. "Study after study has shown the dangers children face in adult jails. Children are eight times more likely to commit suicide, five times more likely to be sexually assaulted, and twice as likely to be assaulted by staff in adult jails than in juvenile facilities."
Edelman added, "Mandatory minimums are a mistake for children. For years, the juvenile justice system has been geared toward rehabilitating youth, but mandatory minimum sentences go in the opposite direction."
Assuming H.R. 1501 passes, which appears highly probable, the House and Senate versions will go to a conference committee, with the final version going back to the Senate and the House for another vote. Jenni Gainsborough, of the Campaign for an Effective Crime Policy, told the Week Online, "They want to get the whole thing done by July 4th, so it's going to go to conference soon, probably within the next couple of weeks."
Gainsborough was not optimistic about the prospects for getting the worst provisions stricken in committee. "It was a fairly substantial vote for the McCollum amendment. A lot of the Democrats voted for it, so I don't know how much of a push there will be."
(The only chance is for voters like yourselves to take action! Please visit our lobbying site at http://www.drcnet.org/juvjustice/ to send an e-mail or fax to Congress, and write down your Representative and Senators' phone numbers to follow up with a phone call! Our "tell-a-friend" form is temporarily broken, so please forward Wednesday night's action alert by e-mail to spread the word, or cut and paste from the text box on the site's finish page.)