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Clinton's juvenile justice legislation proposes grants to states, localities.

Legislation has been introduced which proposes changes in federal laws and a series of new grant programs to assist state and local governments in dealing with gangs, violent juveniles, and reforms of the juvenile justice system.

Representative Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), introduced-President Clinton's Anti-Gang and Youth Violence Act, HR 810, last week. The measure has also been referred to the Senate.

The bill would substantially revise the current Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) renaming it the Office of Juvenile Crime Control and Prevention. This new office would establish a number of federal grant programs and initiatives. For example, federal funds would be made available to states and local governments to develop and advance prevention and intervention programs and for programs that adjudicate or sanction juvenile crimes. Cities and towns would apply through states.

A second program, a new "At-Risk Children Grants Program" would provide federal assistance to states, for distribution to local governments and community-based organizations to combat truancy and school violence. Grant funds could be used for truancy prevention, enforcing juvenile curfews, job and life skills training, after-school programs, among a host of others.

On the corrections side, the bill proposes a number of grant programs to address juvenile prosecution, courts and other activities. For instance, the bill would provide for grants to states to respond to the increase in violent juvenile offenders and the rate of gang-related juvenile crime. In particular the bill would provide grants for state and local prosecutors to facilitate the prosecution of violent and serious juvenile offenders. Grant funds could be used to hire additional prosecutors to reduce current backlogs, enable prosecutors to more effectively prosecute violent youth and youth gang activities. The bill would also fund technology, equipment and training to assist local prosecutors in their efforts to engage in community-based prosecutions, problem solving, and conflict resolution techniques in collaboration with law enforcement, schools, probation officers, social service agencies, and community organizations.

Funds would be set aside for research, statistics, and evaluation.

The bill would also establish grants for states and local governments to use in developing and implementing innovative initiatives to increase efficiency, expediency and effectiveness in processing and adjudicating violent youth. Funds would assist state, local and tribal courts, including probation and parole offices, public defenders, and victim/witness service providers, to respond to violent and serious youth offenders.

Beyond grants, HR 810 would make a number of changes in law regarding serious gun crimes. The bill proposes to make it illegal for any person adjudicated a juvenile delinquent for serious violent felonies or drug crimes to receive or possess firearms. It would also make it illegal for any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that the recipient has been adjudicated a juvenile delinquent for such crimes. Under current law, persons adjudicated juvenile delinquent, even for the most serious crimes such as murder, may receive and possess firearms as adults. This proposal would permit adjudicated delinquents have their rights restored on an individualized basis and in accordance with state law.

Federal firearms licensees, other than licensed collectors, would be required to provide a locking device with every firearm sold to a nonlicensee. The purpose of this provisions is to provide safety to gun owners and to prevent accidental discharges.

A person who transfers a handgun to a juvenile would face increased penalties as would a juvenile found in possession of a handgun. Existing law provides a penalty of not more than one year for the transfer violation and, if the person transferring the handgun to the juvenile knew that the handgun would be used in a crime of violence, a penalty of not more than 10 years would be imposed. Existing law provides for probation by juvenile offenders, unless the juvenile has been previously convicted of certain offenses or adjudicated as a juvenile delinquent.

The bill would increase the current mandatory minimum penalty for using or employing minors to distribute drugs from one year to three. It would also increase the minimum penalty for distributing drugs to minors from one to three years.

Title IV of the bill would expand the rights and protections afforded to the victims of crime, particularly crimes committed by juvenile offenders and those committed against children. For example, the bill proposes to open juvenile proceedings to victims and members of the public, and expand the allocution rights of crime victims, such as the right to have input into the predisposition report prepared by the probation officer and the right to appear before the judge and be heard prior to any order or disposition.

Bill language intends to clear up any ambiguity in current law regarding extending to victims of juvenile offenders regarding the right to information about juvenile proceedings. This means that victims of juvenile offenders would be treated like victims of adult offenders. For example, victims would be able to know the status of the proceedings and the release status of the offender.

Fingerprints and photographs of adjudicated delinquents found to have committed the equivalent of an adult felony offense or found in possession of a handgun, would be sent to the FBI and made available in the same manner as adult defendants. Disclosure of records relating to a juvenile or delinquency proceeding would be authorized if it would be permitted under State law.

The bill would strengthen and simplify the process of prosecuting serious violent juveniles as adults in federal court. It would also give prosecutors, rather than the courts, discretion to charge a juvenile alleged to have committed certain serious felonies as an adult or as a juvenile. This is the direction currently taken in many states. The proposal would retain the minimum age of 18 in existing law for prosecuting juveniles as adults but would expand the list of offenses serious violent, gun or drug felonies for which such actions can be taken.

There would be a distinction between juveniles 16 years of age and older and those who are younger. Prosecution of juveniles 13 to 15 as adults would require approval of the Attorney General. Prosecutors would retain the discretion to proceed against anyone under the age of 18 as a juvenile delinquent.

The bill addresses the sensitive issue of how to reform the current system of incarceration juveniles, especially in the Federal system, which is little equipped for this role. Specifically, the bill would provide that juvenile offenders less than 16 years of age being prosecuted as adults but not yet convicted must be placed in an available, suitable juvenile facility located nearby where the juvenile is being prosecuted. If such a facility is not available, the juvenile could be placed in any other suitable facility Only when neither type of facility is available would a juvenile under 16 years of age be place in some other facility.

Congressional hearings are well underway on this and other juvenile- and gang-related proposals.
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Author:Quist, Janet
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Mar 3, 1997
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