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Conference Spotlight on Crime Bill Questioned

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Washington

The stated goal of the Clinton Administration's national conference on youth violence was to focus on solving the problem through partnerships between communities, government, and others.

But in a week when the fate of the Administration's omnibus anti-crime legislation was unsure at best, federal officials who took the floor between workshops at the conference here last month kept bringing it into the spotlight.

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Vice President Gore, and several other speakers devoted considerable time to extolling the merits of the bill, which eventually passed with some of its proposed spending levels pared. (See related story.)

In the first 45 minutes of the conference alone, no less than four Administration officials, including(See Education Madeleine M. Kunin and Attorney General Janet Reno, hailed the measure before the audience of some 600 invited participants.

In her surprise appearance, Mrs. Clinton said, "I want children to have safe havens, and the crime bill will be a good start."

While attendees seemed supportive of such remarks, members of the conference's youth caucus later questioned the officials' priorities.

In a plenary session on the last day of the three-day event, one of the youths pointedly asked if the "focus of this whole meeting" was the crime bill. Others questioned the measure's likely effectiveness.

Youth Council Planned

At their group appearance, roughly 70 youths who make up the caucus, ranging in age from 14 to 22, told listeners that they felt frustrated because they had not been given enough opportunity during the conference to offer their knowledge and opinions.

The caucus members, some visibly drained, said they stayed up all night before the forum to draw up a list of 15 policy priorities and recommendations.

They called for the creation of a national multicultural youth council on violence that includes youth task forces within federal agencies "to advise government and give youth a voice." Youth leaders selected from within the caucus have already decided to meet this fall in Little Rock, Ark.

They also called for:

  • A national toll-free phone number to inform young people about organizations in their communities.
  • Internships in community-based organizations for juvenile offenders.
  • "Meaningful" jobs and job training programs.
  • Youth courts where juvenile offenders can be judged by peers.
  • More careful monitoring of child protective-service agencies.

Earlier, when Vice President Gore spoke at a televised town meeting as part of the conference, one of the youth leaders, 19-year-old Matthew E.P. Hampton of Little Rock, pressed the Vice President about when the youth council could start working with the Administration.

Gore called the council a "great idea" and pledged to "set up a process by which we can communicate."

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