On Wednesday, July 15th, four senators announced that they have reintroduced the Youth Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education Act -- or the Youth PROMISE Act.
Refreshed and recharged with strong research and fierce bipartisan backing, the latest version of the PROMISE Act has hit the House floor for a vote once again. The four senators, Bob Casey (D-PA), Gary Peters (D-MI), David Vitter (R-LA), and James Inhofe (R-OK), have come together to form an unlikely alliance. Originally introduced in 2007 by Virginia Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott, the bill has been reintroduced each new session of Congress, each time failing to get a vote on the House floor despite a series of amendments and additional political backing.
A Shift In Perspective
Traditionally an issue championed by Democrats, it has been nearly impossible for Congress to budge on criminal justice reform efforts. But a distinct shift in perspective has taken place around the country and in Washington, as more states realize that the school-to-prison pipeline is costing us more than correcting. As evidenced by the game-changing Pennsylvania State University study from 2008, communities can actually save money through youth support and intervention programs, instead of trying to fix the issue by throwing millions of tax dollars into federal prisons.
In 2013, the bill gained spotlight from the public support of over 100 civil rights leaders, artists, entertainers, business and faith leaders, elected officials, and athletes who sent an open letter to President Obama. Over the years, the Act has also accumulated the support of over 300 human rights organizations, nonprofits, and funds. Recently, as more conservative groups and political figures begin to back away from pro-law enforcement measures and instead edge towards promoting preventative measures to combat crime, legislation like the PROMISE Act should finally have the momentum it needs to pass through the House.
Empowering Local Governments
The bill aims to ultimately disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline by granting funds to local governments in order to devise, implement, and track evidence-based programs and initiatives to prevent juvenile delinquency and gang violence. Instead of mandating local governments adopt a single solution, the Act empowers communities to establish solutions that fit their own unique needs. The bill also calls to establish Coordinating Councils comprised of parents, youths, and community group stakeholders to aid in overseeing local initiatives.
"The Youth PROMISE Act is a bipartisan, community-based approach to prevent America’s young people from turning to a life of crime,” said Republican Senator and co-sponsor James Inhofe. “By providing localized, evidence-base methods for mentoring and youth outreach programs, we can help keep at-risk youth out of prison and put them on a path towards a more promising future.”
This locally-controlled and metrically-driven approach should give local communities the leverage to test and develop location-appropriate violence prevention and at-risk youth intervention practices. The Act would also establish a National Research Center for Proven Juvenile Justice Practices to publish and provide local communities with research on evidence-based intervention and preventative programs.
The Issue Gains Traction
Meanwhile, as a suite of other criminal justice reform campaigns continue to gain traction alongside the Youth PROMISE Act, President Obama recently addressed the urgent need for broad criminal justice reform at the annual NAACP conference, noting that mass incarceration is making our country worse off, and that something needs to be done about it.
The country is finally waking up to the fact that millions of our own young citizens are losing an uphill battle against a series of impossible circumstances. It’s time to take action and bridge together the efforts of public policy, research, community effort, and public support so we can ensure every young American has a safe and supportive upbringing.
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Resources: Photo Credit (1) Bipartisan Group Of Senators Fights To Help Keep Kids Out Of Prison (2) Vitter, Casey, Inhofe, Peters Introduce Criminal Justice Reform Legislation that Seeks to Blunt School to Prison Pipeline