A Springfield group is pushing a federal bill that would provide local control to communities to help keep their young people out of jail.
The Youth Promise Act was introduced last year by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia) and is currently in the House of Representatives’ Workforce and Education committee. Promise stands for Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support and Education.
A companion Senate Bill was also introduced last year by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) and is currently in the Judiciary Committee.
The act would fund and implement evidence-based, locally-controlled youth and gang violence prevention and intervention practices. It would allow for local communities to set up their own coordinating council consisting of law enforcement, courts, faith-based groups, schools and parents who would identify the problems and create solutions for youth and gang violence.
The Clark County Peace Alliance, which was formed last year by resident Peggy Hanna, has been securing local endorsements for the Youth Promise Act. The Peace Alliance has about 60 members, Hanna said.
“For youth, incarceration does not rehabilitate and in some cases, it does more harm than good,” Hanna said.
About $68 billion is spent per year on corrections in the United States, according to the Youth Promise Act’s website.
“The money we spend locking people up could be put into such better use,” Hanna said.
The legislation was recently endorsed by both the Springfield and Clark County commissions, Hanna said. Springfield Christian Youth Ministries, Mental Health and Recovery Board of Clark and Madison Counties, Ohio Juvenile Justice Alliance, Clark County Re-Entry Coalition and Partners Against Violence Everyday, a coalition of 15 different agencies in Clark County, have also endorsed the bill.
Scott has introduced the legislation several times since 2007. It has been criticized by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank based in Washington, D.C., for its attempt to further expand the national government’s role in crime.
Youth violence has been a hot topic in Springfield in recent months after the shooting deaths of Jeff Wellington and George Walker Jr. Several anti-violence rallies have been held since the shootings occurred this spring.
Last week, a speaker from the national anti-violence organization Cure Violence spoke to community leaders at a presentation held by the Cornerstone Project, a behavioral health and addiction organization.
There is evidence that diverting young people from jail and finding other ways to deal with their situation both help to improve the livelihood of the individual and the rest of the community, said Mayor Warren Copeland.
“Once we send them to jail, they usually don’t come out healthier. They come out more likelier to re-offend,” Copeland said. “I think any ways we can find to intervene and keep people under control and in the community, it’s better for us.”
Hanna is working to meet with local federal legislators, including Sen. Rob Portman and Rep. John Boehner, with hopes they’ll support the bi-partisan legislation.
“This bill would do so much good for so many communities,” Hanna said.
The responsibility should fall on state and local governments to provide funding for these types of programs, said David Muhlhausen, a senior policy analyst in the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation. He testified against the legislation in July of 2009 before the U.S. House of Representatives’ subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, according to the Foundation’s website.
He said it will also lead to certain evidence-based programs being funded because they sound similar to other successful programs.
“It’s sort of already violating the principles of federalism where there are certainly programs, specifically law enforcement programs, crime-related programs, which should be operated on the state and local level,” Muhlhausen said. “It pays state and local governments to do what they should be doing anyways. It’s not an efficient use of federal resources.”
The Springfield News-Sun is committed to covering efforts to stop violence in Clark County, including recent stories on several rallies.