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House Panel Approves Expansion of Juvenile-Justice Act

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WASHINGTON--The House Education and Labor Committee last week unanimously approved legislation to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

The bill would provide new incentives for interagency coordination, nearly double the current spending ceiling to $150 million, and authorize an additional $25 million each for gang-prevention and intervention programs.

HR 5194, which would also reauthorize the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, moved easily last week through both the Subcommittee on Human Resources and the full Education and Labor panel.

The House is expected to consider the measure within two weeks. Congressional aides said they do not anticipate any snags.

A companion bill was expected to be introduced in the Senate as early as late last week, aides said.

'Message to All of America'

The House legislation, which had bipartisan sponsorship, represents an effort "to address the ravages of social disease on our youth and our communities,'' the subcommittee chairman, Representative Matthew G. Martinez, a California Democrat, said in a written statement.

Such action, Mr. Martinez said, is one response to the "message to all of America'' sent by the recent riots in his hometown of Los Angeles.

"We need to respond to our communities,'' he said. "We need to provide alternatives for our youth.''

The bill proposes raising the funding authorization for the act's programs to $150 million in fiscal year 1993 and "such sums as may be necessary'' for fiscal years 1994 through 1996. Current funding stands at about $78 million, and one aide said that given pressures to hold down domestic spending, it is unlikely that actual outlays will be increased significantly.

A Continuum of Service

According to aides to subcommittee members, to encourage a continuum of service among such agencies as schools, mental-health-care providers, child-welfare workers, and probation departments, the bill mandates that any monies received under the new law beyond 105 percent of the 1992 funding level be reserved for interagency coordination.

Coordination among education providers is also encouraged--but not required or specifically funded--in the bill extending both the juvenile-justice and runaway-youth programs.

Improving Communication

With an eye to preventing school failure and juvenile delinquency, the measure urges strengthening the lines of communication between a youth's home school and the runaway shelter or detention center that may be providing the child with instruction.

The gang-prevention provision authorizes grants to public agencies--with priority given to local education agencies or applicants involving them substantially--and private nonprofit groups.

It was originally introduced this month as a separate measure, the "gang-free schools and communities act of 1992,'' by Representative Dale E. Kildee, Democrat of Michigan and a member of the Education committee.

In addition to research and evaluation, the grants would fund local programs that offer individual, family, and peer counseling; programs to train adults to provide alternative activities for youths; school activities that assist in maintaining a safe learning environment; drug prevention and treatment services for juveniles; and community-based gang-intervention programs.

The gang-intervention grants are to support groups including regional task forces that coordinate gang-related enforcement, intervention, and treatment efforts and efforts to curtail interstate activities of gangs.

Qualifications for Post

The reauthorization bill would also require the administrator of the Justice Department's office of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, which oversees the implementation of the juvenile-justice act, to have experience as a practitioner in the field.

Experience as a juvenile-justice practitioner is also proposed as a requirement for 9 of the 16 members of the O.J.J.D.P.'s coordinating council, which currently has as members only Cabinet secretaries and federal agency officials.

The qualifications of the administrator were an issue in 1989 when Robert W. Sweet Jr. was nominated for the position.

Mr. Sweet won Senate confirmation the following year, despite concern that he lacked experience in the field and because of his controversial tenure as acting director of the now-defunct National Institute of Education in 1981. (See Education Week, Nov. 1, 1989.)

Mr. Sweet resigned his post April 10. An agency spokesman declined to comment on the reason for his departure.

Still at the Justice Department, Mr. Sweet in mid-April became special assistant to the deputy director for operations at the U.S. Marshals Service, a spokesman said.

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