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Ounce of Prevention Threatens To Hold Up Crime Measure

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Washington

When Congress returns from a recess on April 11, the House is expected to consider an omnibus crime bill that balances tougher penalties for repeat offenders with a variety of educational and recreational programs, most of them geared toward young people, that are designed to prevent crime before it happens.

But the bill's emphasis on crime prevention, which President Clinton has said is integral to his anti-crime strategy, will likely be a sticking point in the debate.

The House was scheduled to vote last week on HR 4092, which would authorize $15.9 billion for new programs. But some Republican lawmakers threatened to use "all the procedural power'' at their disposal to stall the crime bill if their amendments, including several to cut or eliminate funding for prevention programs, were not considered on the floor, a Republican aide said.

As a result, Democratic leaders agreed to postpone action on the bill until after the recess in order to consider the Republican objections.

"It would have gummed up the works significantly for the Democrats'' had they not agreed to reconsider the matter, a Republican aide working on the bill said.

While the Republican leadership favors passage of a crime bill, they are less interested in promoting prevention than in "getting the criminals off the street now,'' the aide observed.

The House Democratic leadership has been vigilant, however, about protecting the prevention provisions.

The legislation combines 20 separate bills, 13 of which passed through a House committee earlier this month. The others were passed as individual bills last year.

The bulk of the measure's youth initiatives are included in Title X of the bill, which would authorize a total of $6.9 billion for states, schools, and community-based organizations to develop crime-prevention programs.

Youth Programs

Title X would establish:

  • An "ounce of prevention'' program, designed to assist youths who live in areas plagued by crime, juvenile delinquency, and gangs. Schools would be eligible for as much as $27 million in grants to develop mentoring, vocational, or other after-school programs.
  • An initiative supporting athletic programs targeted at school dropouts in high-crime areas, which would be authorized at $50 million. Participants would be required to receive tutoring and employment counseling.
  • A program to encourage peer supervision of drug offenders through drug courts, in coordination with schools and community organizations. The measure would be authorized at $1.4 billion.
  • A "local partnership funds'' program, under which local governments in areas with high percentages of poor and unemployed people would be eligible for as much as $2 billion in grants designated for health and education programs. About 200,000 cities and towns would qualify for the aid.
  • A program supporting "community youth academies,'' which would authorize $50 million to finance alternatives to correctional facilities, such as boot camps or community-based incarceration.
  • A "model prevention initiative,'' under which communities could apply for as much as $1.5 billion in grants to develop crime-prevention plans tailored to chronic local crime problems.

If it clears the House, HR 4092 must then be reconciled with the Senate's $22.3 billion omnibus crime bill, HR 3355, which passed the Senate in November. For procedural reasons, the Senate employed a bill number from House legislation that passed earlier in the year. (See Education Week, Dec. 1, 1993.)

While the House bill includes a larger prevention package, the Senate bill would authorize $600 million for violence-prevention and gang-intervention initiatives involving children and schools.

Among them is a "safe schools'' provision that would authorize $100 million for grants to schools in high-crime areas. A similar program is included in pending legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The Senate crime bill would also authorize $400,000 to support the development of curricula designed to prevent violence against women.

In addition to the crime-prevention provisions, both the Senate and House measures also contain numerous punitive provisions, including provisions that would allow more juveniles to be tried as adults in federal courts.

The bills would also authorize grants, funneled through states to municipalities, to fund background checks of teachers and administrators to insure that they have not been convicted of child abuse.

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