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Measures Tackle School Crime, Gangs, and Handguns

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WASHINGTON--Spurred by growing public anxiety over youth violence, members of Congress last week began a flurry of activity on bills relating to school crime, gang prevention, boot camps, and juveniles with handguns.

In the House, the Judiciary Committee approved three juvenile-crime measures, which were among six bills pulled out of the House omnibus crime bill and put on a fast track last week.

The omnibus bill, HR 3131, has become mired in controversy on other issues.

The smaller crime bills were introduced by the sponsor of the comprehensive bill, Rep. Jack Brooks, D-Tex., the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and by Rep. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.

One of the measures approved by the panel, HR 3375, would provide $100 million annually for grants to local education agencies with high rates of crime and violence, while another, HR 3353, would authorize the same amount for grants to states and local governments to develop programs to reduce juvenile-gang participation and juvenile drug trafficking.

The third youth-crime bill, HR 3351, would provide $200 million for state and local efforts to develop alternative methods of punishment for young offenders.

Safe-Schools Model

Under HR 3375, the Justice Department, in consultation with the Secretary of Education, would develop a written safe-schools model to be made available to school districts.

The grants would be used for:

  • Anti-crime and safety measures and education-and-training programs for the prevention of crime, violence, and drug abuse;
  • Counseling for victims of school crime;
  • Equipment such as metal detectors and surveillance devices; and
  • Prevention and reduction of the involvement of youths in organized crime and drug- and gang-related activities in schools.

Under HR 3353, gang-prevention grants would be focused on reducing juvenile-gang and drug-related activity around schools and public-housing projects.

Funds could also be used for school programs that teach that drug and gang involvement are wrong, or for boys' and girls' clubs, Scout troops, and athletic programs.

Funding authorized by HR 3351 would help provide punishment for young offenders who might benefit from an environment other than a traditional correctional facility.

Such alternative methods might include boot camps, community-based incarceration, weekend incarceration, electronic monitoring of offenders, and community service.

Meanwhile, the Senate's omnibus crime bill, S 1488, also touches on several juvenile-justice issues.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., was expected to be considered on the floor beginning late last week or early this week.

'A Profound Frustration'

The Senate bill contains a "safe schools'' provision that, like the House bill, provides $100 million for grants to high-crime schools.

Both bills are separate from the Clinton Administration's proposed "safe-schools act,'' S 1125, although that bill takes a similar approach.

Two other provisions in S 1488--providing for gang-prevention grants and juvenile boot camps--also closely track their companion House bills.

S 1488 also would provide for increased penalties for juveniles who were convicted of violent or controlled-substances federal felonies and were also gang members.

In addition, the bill calls for development of a national system of criminal-background checks for child-care providers and would require convicted child-sex offenders to register with law-enforcement agencies.

Also last week, Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., was expected to offer an amendment to the omnibus crime bill that would make it a federal crime to sell a handgun to a minor or for a minor to possess a handgun under most circumstances.

Mr. Kohl's amendment has won backing from the Subcommittee on Juvenile Justice, which he chairs, as well as from President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno.

Richard Kruse, the director of government relations for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, said his group also favors Mr. Kohl's proposal.

"It is a statement that we've got to get these damn guns out of kids' hands,'' Mr. Kruse said.

He added: "There's a profound amount of frustration ... among our principals [about violence]--that it's getting worse every year instead of getting better.''

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