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Romer Calls Special Session To Focus on Youth Violence

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Responding to public dismay over a surge of youth-related crime in the state, the Colorado legislature last week convened a special session on the problem of juvenile crime and violence.

The five-day session was expected to focus on proposals by Gov. Roy Romer, who called for tougher gun laws and new programs for youthful offenders.

Violence among young people is "morally wrong,'' the Governor told lawmakers, adding, "The fear it imposes on us and our children is morally destructive.''

The first priority is to "get the bullets off the streets and guns out of the hands of our kids,'' Mr. Romer said.

The Democratic Governor's plan calls for bills to:

  • Ban possession of handguns by those under age 18 and make it illegal for adults to provide handguns unlawfully to juveniles;
  • Expedite the prosecution of cases involving minors and guns; and
  • Expand detention space and programs, including a "boot camp'' for those who violate the law.

Youth-Offender System Urged

Mr. Romer also proposed a middle tier between the juvenile-justice system and the adult-correction system for violent 14- to 18-year-old offenders who commit such crimes as assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated robbery, and manslaughter.

The Youth Offender System, as the new program would be called, would combine longer sentences and a disciplined atmosphere with specialized training and rehabilitation. It would be housed in the state corrections department.

Mr. Romer's proposals would require an estimated $40 million this fiscal year for building new juvenile-detention facilities, including a 250- to 300-bed facility for youth offenders and an 80-bed boot camp, said Matt Sugar, the Governor's deputy press secretary.

The money would come largely from federal refunds to the state for overpayment on Medicaid services.

In his address, Governor Romer railed against the National Rifle Association, which has been running advertisements critical of his proposals.

The gun owners' lobby is "part of the problem, not part of the solution,'' Mr. Romer said, "and it needs to get out of our way.''

The special session followed a statewide summit the previous week to discuss long-term solutions to the crisis.

Several violent tragedies this spring and summer have galvanized public and political concern on the issue.

In May, a 10-month-old visiting the Denver Zoo was grazed in the forehead by a bullet apparently fired by gang members two blocks away.

In addition, several young children have been critically injured in crossfire from gang fights, a man was killed in a carjacking robbery, and a young teacher was fatally shot in a random attack.

In his speech to legislators, Mr. Romer also quoted from a recent survey of 2,500 10- to 19-year-olds by the pollster Louis Harris, which found that 10 percent had fired a gun or been shot at and 60 percent said they could obtain a handgun. (See Education Week, Aug. 4, 1993.)

Mr. Romer called on Coloradans to "examine the cultural messages we send our kids.''

"We cannot teach kids not to engage in violence,'' he said, "when we celebrate it daily.''

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