Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr. for the Markup of H.R. 68, the “Juvenile Accountability Block Grant Reauthorization and Bullying Prevention and Intervention Act”
Mr. Chairman, I support H.R. 68, which would reauthorize and update the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant program. This program is an important part of the comprehensive effort to help states improve and operate their juvenile justice systems.
I commend my colleague, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Crime, for her work on this important bill and for her steadfast work to reform the ways our criminal justice and juvenile justice systems treat young offenders.
In the late 1990s, fears about the prospects of a wave of juvenile crime – which turned out to be unfounded – inspired some legislators to call for harsher penalties for juvenile offenders.
Instead, this Committee, on a bipartisan basis, worked to develop a program to help states take a more measured approach.
That was the genesis of the Juvenile Accountability Incentive Block Grant program, as it was originally named, which was enacted in 1997.
This program encourages the use of accountability models that hold juveniles responsible for their behavior by imposing consequences commensurate with the seriousness of the offense and the youth’s prior criminal history.
In other words, it is fairer – and more effective from the standpoint of public safety – to not impose an overly-harsh and disproportionate sentence on a young offender who has little or no history of prior offenses.
That is why this Committee has a history of bipartisan support for the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant program.
Although the authorization for the program expired several years ago, it deserves to be reauthorized and our continued support as one of the ways the federal government provides assistance and guidance to states on their juvenile justice systems.
This program fits within a framework of other initiatives targeting specific issues in order to support these systems and safeguard the rights of young offenders.
And there are other steps that we must take, even as we work to reauthorize this worthy program today.
To that end, I remain committed to working with the Chairman and my colleagues on the Committee to strengthen our common interest in ensuring appropriate treatment of young offenders.
H.R. 68 is an important contribution to achieving that critical goal.
Accordingly, I ask my colleagues to join me in supporting this bill and I yield back the balance of my time.