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Gang Deterrence and Community Protection Act of 2005

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Location: Washington, DC


GANG DETERRENCE AND COMMUNITY PROTECTION ACT OF 2005 -- (House of Representatives - May 11, 2005)

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Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Madam Chairman, I rise in opposition to the bill, and I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Madam Chairman, it is unfortunate that we are again debating how to reduce juvenile crime and violence. Rather than following through on the proven crime and violence prevention techniques that work, we are back to tough-talking sound byte policies that have been proven to not only fail to reduce crime but actually increase crime, waste taxpayers' money and discriminate against minorities. Seven years ago, it was the Violent Youth Predator Act. Now it is the "Gang Busters" bill, with the same array of poll-tested sound bytes: trying more juveniles as adults and mandatory minimum sentences. The bill includes mandatory life or death penalties, even for unintentional acts.

This bill is in no way like the bill we developed a few years ago on a bipartisan basis to address youth crime and violence following the dark days following the Columbine school shootings. That bill was cosponsored by all of the members of the Subcommittee on Crime and was based on combined wisdom and expertise of law enforcement, juvenile court judges, administrators, researchers, criminologists and juvenile justice advocates along with the entire political spectrum.

All of the Hastert-Gephardt Task Force members called witnesses to let us know what we should do to reduce crime and violence amongst juveniles. Not a single one of those witnesses said we needed to add more Federal mandatory minimum sentences. Not one mentioned the death penalty. Not one said anything about trying more juveniles as adults. Not one. The fully bipartisan bill we developed from recommendations of those experts was full of collaborative efforts between Federal, State, and local officials aimed at addressing the problems caused by young people and addressing them early, focused on prevention and keeping them out of trouble to begin with. And when they first get in trouble, intervene early and provide sufficient sanctions and services to get them back on the straight and narrow. Further, if they do come back, hit them with graduated sanctions and services to the extent required to address the problem, including keeping them away from or getting them out of gang activities. At that time, as now, we can try juveniles as adults as early as 13-years old and sentence them with harsh sentences when they commit serious, violent offenses, both at the Federal as well as the State level.

So make no mistake about it: The children affected by this bill will be those children whose roles in gang crimes are minor or fringe, because we are already trying youth who commit serious violent offenses as adults and locking them up for long periods of time. It is the lesser offenders, the children who get in fist fights, committing misdemeanors, who will be subject to the 10-year, mandatory minimum numbers in this bill. Those who commit murder or rape or chop off hands with machetes or even conspire to do that are already subject to life sentences. So the 10-year mandatory minimums will be the friends who get in fights.

Madam Chairman, we already lock up more people than anywhere on earth: 714 per 100,000, way above whatever is in second place, way above the national average of 100 per 100,000. In fact, whereas there is 1 out of 63 white youth 25- to 29-years old in jail today, we lock up one out of every 8 African-American youth in jail today. This bill, with all of its discriminatory policies, will only add to that disparity. And for what? A long line of studies conducted by the Department of Justice and crime researchers have consistently told us that treating more juveniles as adults will increase crime and violence.

The Coalition of Juvenile Justice study, "Childhood on Trial," coincidentally released the same day as this bill was introduced, covers thousands of cases over a long period of time and confirmed that adult treatment of more juveniles increases crime and violence and is discriminatory in its application. That is primarily because if the judge finds a person guilty in adult court, his only possibilities are lock the child up with adults or let them walk on probation or parole. If they get locked up with adults, they will obviously come out worse than they went in. And so the studies show that if we increase the number of juveniles tried as adults we will not only increase crime, but we will increase violent crime.

Now, this bill not only includes provisions to try more juveniles as adults. It also includes more mandatory minimums. We know from all of the credible research, mandatory minimum sentences are the most costly and least effective way to address crime. As compared to intelligent approaches, like having the worst offenders get the most time and lesser offenders get less time, or drug treatment for drug-addicted offenders, mandatory minimum sentences have been shown to waste money and discriminate against minorities. That is why the Federal Judicial Conference has told us time and time again that mandatory minimum sentences violate common sense.

We also know that the death penalty is not only flawed, but is disproportionately applied to minorities and the poor. It also does not reduce crime. Some 199 people have been freed from Death Row over the last 10 years because they were innocent of the crimes for which they received the death penalty. Now, until we fund the innocence protection provisions we passed last year, we should not be passing new death penalties.

But unfortunately, despite all of our agreement and progress, we have failed in the most important aspect of our prior work, and that is to provide adequate funding for the initiatives that we passed. The most money we have ever been able to get appropriated for the juvenile justice bills was $55 million a year, about one-tenth of what was necessary. We are, in fact, cutting funding for these programs in our budget, and also cutting money for local law enforcement. And this bill provides nothing for prevention, nothing for early intervention, and virtually nothing in the bill goes to local law enforcement. It all goes to Federal prosecution and incarceration. Instead, almost $400 million in the bill will go to the Federal prosecutors and possibly billions to locking up people under the long mandatory minimum sentences.

Madam Chairman, we have a choice in crime policy. We can play politics, or we can reduce crime. And we know what to do to reduce crime. All the researchers have told us. In fact, a few weeks ago I met with some students at Monument High School in South Boston, Massachusetts, and I told them about this upcoming hearing we were having on the gang bill, and I asked them what did they think needed to be done to keep kids out of gangs. They said, kids join gangs for reputation, protection, to feel wanted, to have friends, and to get money. And what is needed to prevent them from joining gangs was ample recreation for boys as well as girls, jobs and internships for training and money, and assistance to allow their families to live in decent homes.

Recently, I met with law enforcement officials in my district, and they had similar advice. Neither group said anything about the need for more mandatory minimums, trying more juveniles as adults, or new death penalties. None of them asked us to waste money on these programs.

But we took their advice a few years ago and actually started the process for doing what was necessary to reduce crime: prevention and early intervention. But we did not finish the job of funding the programs. We should fund juvenile justice prevention programs, early intervention programs, and local law enforcement instead of passing this bill.

Madam Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Madam Chairman, I yield myself 1 minute just to say, first of all, that my distinguished colleague from Virginia and I will be working together later this week if they try to close any military bases. But on this bill we, unfortunately, have to disagree.

First of all, Madam Chairman, murder, rape, kidnapping are already illegal in every State. Interstate gang members can be caught by RICO and organized crime, continuing criminal enterprise, FBI is already working on that. But this bill contains a provision that fist fights can subject young people to 10-year mandatory minimums.

The after-school programs that have been disparaged are the kinds of things that will actually reduce gang involvement. You can disparage them by calling it arts and crafts for gang members. But if you ask the researchers what will actually make a difference, it is those after-school programs to give the kids constructive things to do with their time.

Madam Chairman, I yield 4 minutes to the gentleman from California (Mr. Schiff), a former prosecutor.

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Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Madam Chairman, I yield myself 30 seconds.

If the bill passes or does not pass, it will still be illegal to stab someone 16 times. What we ought to be looking at are the kinds of initiatives that will reduce the chances that that will happen again.

Giving a 10-year mandatory minimum for a second offense fist fight is not going to reduce the chance that someone will be stabbed 16 times when you are not funding any of the programs that are desperately needed to actually reduce juvenile crime.

Madam Chairman, I yield 1 minute to the gentleman from California (Mr. Schiff).

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Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Madam Chairman, I yield myself 1 minute.

Whether this bill passes or not, murder, rape, robbery will be illegal. People will be prosecuted. They will get time in jail. In fact, as I indicated before, for 15- to 19-year-old African Americans in this country, one out of eight are already in jail today. This bill, which will try more juveniles as adults, will not only increase the number in jail but will also increase the crime rate.

Mandatory minimums have been shown to be discriminatory and waste the taxpayers' money. The death penalty is discriminatory and does not do anything about crime. This bill will give 10 years mandatory minimums to second-offense fist fights, and that is not the kind of sentence that is going to do anything about these violent kinds of crimes that my colleagues are talking about. Ten years, mandatory minimum, second offense, fist fight.

Madam Chairman, I yield 30 seconds to the gentlewoman from Texas (Ms. Jackson-Lee).

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MODIFICATION TO AMENDMENT NO. 1 OFFERED BY MR. SENSENBRENNER

Mr. SENSENBRENNER. Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent that my amendment be modified by the form that I have placed at the desk.

The Acting CHAIRMAN. The Clerk will report the modification.

The Clerk read as follows:

Modification to amendment No. 1 offered by Mr. Sensenbrenner: Strike that portion of the amendment which proposes to insert material on page 20.

The Acting CHAIRMAN. Is there objection to the modification offered by the gentleman from Wisconsin?

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, reserving the right to object, I would ask the gentleman to please explain the modification, if that is not part of his presentation.

Mr. SENSENBRENNER. Mr. Chairman, will the gentleman yield?

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. I yield to the gentleman from Wisconsin.

Mr. SENSENBRENNER. Mr. Chairman, the material that is on page 20 relates to a clarification of the ban on possession of hand guns by juveniles. It appears to me that the clarification does not clarify the statute. The best thing to do is to completely remove the clarification as was proposed, thus leaving the current law intact, which means that if a juvenile possesses a hand gun, he will have to have a written note stating that he is authorized to do so from his parent.

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Continuing my reservation of objection, Mr. Chairman, how does the modification change the original manager's amendment?

Mr. SENSENBRENNER. Mr. Chairman, if the gentleman will yield further, the original manager's amendment said if the parent accompanied the juvenile, the juvenile did not have to have the note. What this modification does is to require the juvenile to continue having the note.

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, I withdraw my reservation of objection.

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Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, I want to remind the House that it is already illegal to murder, rape, kidnap, cut off hands with machete attacks, conspiracy to do any of those acts. We lock people up for that. In fact, since we are talking about immigrants, one in 27 Hispanic males 25 to 29 are in jail today already. Those are crimes. They are doing the time. Also, for those who are crossing State lines and all that, we have RICO, Continuing Criminal Enterprise. That is already the law.

But this amendment just adds insult. And let us be clear: Second-offense fist fight by a bunch of kids, under the bill, is 10 years mandatory minimum. This adds 5 years to the 10-year mandatory minimum for second-offense fist fighting. I think that is excessive. If the fist fight deserves more time, the Sentencing Commission can deal with that. I would hope that we would defeat the amendment.

Mr. Chairman, I yield such time as he may consume to the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Conyers), the ranking member of the Committee on the Judiciary.

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AMENDMENT NO. 7 OFFERED BY MR. GOODLATTE

Mr. GOODLATTE. Mr. Chairman, I offer an amendment.

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Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, I just want to remind the House that it is illegal to chop off fingers and you will be given more time than this bill will provide. Murdering 28 people is also already illegal, whether this bill passes or not.

But this amendment just adds insult to injury. If a child comes into the country because his parents snuck into the country to work, this bill, the underlying bill provides for a 10-year mandatory minimum for a fist -fight. This just adds 5 more years of insult.

I would hope we defeat the amendment.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, I claim the time in opposition.

The Acting CHAIRMAN. The gentleman from Virginia is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition because we have not studied this. This issue did not come before the committee. We do not know anything about the accuracy of the data that may be circulated. We do not know what it is going to cost. And we particularly do not know whether or not this is a good cost-effective way of providing homeland security. For example, this will do nothing to prevent an Oklahoma bombing, where the problem was domestic.

If we are going to spend money in homeland security, we ought to put it where it is most needed. We have not studied to determine whether this is the best use of the money or not. Therefore, Mr. Chairman, I would hope we would not pass this amendment.

Mr. Chairman, I yield 1 minute to the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Norwood).

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AMENDMENT NO. 8 OFFERED BY MR. NORWOOD

Mr. NORWOOD. Mr. Chairman, I offer an amendment.

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Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, I hope we defeat the amendment. As I said, it may or may not, we do not know, be a cost-effective use of the taxpayers' money.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, I rise to claim the time in opposition, and I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I would just say, this is interesting timing of the amendment, because we just passed the Goodlatte amendment, and now we are going to study, I guess, whether or not we should have passed it because, as the gentleman from Georgia has indicated, we do not know the link between illegal aliens and gang membership, and so we have to study it. We just passed an amendment to add 5 years mandatory minimum to sentences if a couple of them get into a fist fight. So I guess it is nice to know whether we should have passed it or not, but I just want to point out that it is an interesting place to consider this amendment.

Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Having heard the distinguished views from my friend, the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Waters) and the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Norwood), I am convinced that the amendment is well taken, however misplaced in time. We should have considered this before the gentleman from Roanoke, Virginia, but as my colleague has said, better late than never.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, I want to remind Members of the House that murders are already illegal. Intentional murder subjects you to either the death penalty or mandatory life. Racketeering and those other charges are illegal. The mandatory minimums in the bill apply to second-offense fist fights, and I guess if you are an illegal immigrant, you get an additional 5 years mandatory minimum.

If that is not enough, Mr. Chairman, we have already said that, for those 25 to 29 in the African-American community, 1 out of 8 are already in jail today. Apparently, that is not enough penalty, and we need to increase it.

The Sentencing Commission has studied the impact of mandatory minimum sentences and have found that they not only violate the entire purpose of the Sentencing Commission, but they are also applied in a racially discriminatory manner. We also have found, Mr. Chairman, that the Rand Corporation has studied mandatory minimums and found that it is not a cost-effective sentencing scheme. They found that compared to a more intelligent scheme where the more serious criminals get more time and less serious get less time, mandatory minimums are less effective in reducing crime. They are also much less effective than drug rehabilitation for drug penalties. So we have the Rand Corporation designating mandatory minimums as a waste of the taxpayers' money.

The Judicial Conference of the United States, the Chief Justice of the United States presiding, has written us a letter saying, not only that trying juveniles as adults is bad policy but also the mandatory minimums, and they have maintained opposition to mandatory minimums since 1953. They write: The reason is manifest. Mandatory minimums severely distort and damage the Federal sentencing system. Mandatory minimums undermine the sentencing guideline regime Congress so carefully established in the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 by preventing the rational development of guidelines that reduce unwanted disparity and provide proportionality and fairness.

Mandatory minimums also destroy honesty in sentencing by encouraging charge and fact plea bargains. In fact, the U.S. Sentencing Commission has documented that mandatory minimums have the opposite of their intended effect. Far from fostering certainty in punishment, mandatory minimums result in unwarranted sentencing disparity.

Mandatory minimums also treat dissimilar offenders in a similar fashion, although these offenders can be quite different with respect to the seriousness of their conduct or their danger to society.

Finally, mandatory minimums require the sentencing court to impose the same sentence on offenders when sound policy and common sense call for reasonable differences and punishment. Accordingly, we respectfully request that the expansion of the Federal criminal justice system over juvenile offenders be seriously reconsidered, and that the mandatory minimum sentences provision in the bill be removed.

Mr. Chairman, that is exactly what this amendment does, and I would hope that the amendment would be adopted.

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Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, if you kill a police officer you are going to get death or life without parole. If you make any murder in the Federal system you are looking at life. If you are talking about the impact of this bill, it is a 10-year mandatory minimum for second-offense fist fights.

We have been asked where our compassion is for the victims. We have got mandatory minimums where you already know that it violates common sense, it wastes the taxpayers money, it fails to do anything about reducing crime. That is what the studies have shown. Trying juveniles as adults we know increases crime.

That is a good question. Where is your compassion for the victims when you are actually increasing crime? We know what works to reduce crime. We know what polls well, and what we need to do is have some compassion for common sense and actually enact those provisions that will reduce crime.

We know that prevention and early intervention work. You know, you can make jokes about it; but we know what works and we know what polls well. If we are going to show some compassion for our victims, we ought to do something to actually reduce crime.

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