Time to Pass the Youth PROMISE Act

This week, Congressman Robert C. "Bobby" Scott will introduce the Youth Prison Reduction Through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support and Education Act ("Youth PROMISE Act") for the fourth consecutive Congress.

The Youth PROMISE Act is comprehensive, youth violence prevention legislation. Based on extensive scientific research, the Youth PROMISE Act addresses the root causes of violence, and empowers local communities by bolstering strengths, investing in what works, and engaging community stakeholders to come together on behalf of our youth.

Rather than focusing on ineffective and wasteful "one size fits all" approaches, the Youth PROMISE Act invests in local, culturally and geographically relevant, proven and promising violence prevention and intervention strategies that save lives and enable youth to realize their vast potential. When enacted, the Youth PROMISE Act will provide our most challenged communities across the country with the necessary tools to prevent and address youth violence.

Urgency for this legislation has never been greater. Far too many neighborhoods across the country are akin to war zones. Children in our poorest and most vulnerable communities confront horrific levels of violence on a daily basis. According to experts in the field, many children living in neighborhoods riddled with violence suffer levels of post-traumatic stress comparable to those experienced by our soldiers returning from war.

In December, when Sandy Hook Elementary School became the scene of the worst mass shooting in a public school in American history, our country came together around the national tragedy of violence affecting our youth. In reality, however, children have been suffering the unspeakable horror of violence in this country for decades. Statistics from the Children's Defense Fund reveal that 2,694 children and teens were killed by gunfire in 2010; 1,773 of them were victims of homicide, and 67 of them were elementary school-age children. Since 1979 when gun death data were first collected by age, 119,079 children and teens have been killed by gun violence. That number represents more child and youth deaths in America than American battle deaths in World War I (53,402), or in Vietnam (47,434), or in the Korean War (33,739), or in Iraq (3,517) and Afghanistan (2,059) combined.

Congress now has the opportunity, and the corresponding obligation, to honor the lives of our lost children by enacting policies and practices that recognize and address the violence youth experience every day in communities around this country. We must stop this preventable and inexcusable carnage once and for all. We must demand that Congress pass the Youth PROMISE Act.

Some critics complain, "In our current economic climate, we cannot afford to authorize -- or appropriate -- new funds for youth violence or delinquency prevention." In truth, we cannot afford not to. Extensive research and cost-benefit analyses reveal that investing in youth to prevent violence and delinquency yields cost-savings, makes society safer, and saves lives. As the late University of Richmond Law School professor, Robert E. Shepherd, Jr. used to say, "We can pay for our youth when they are in the play pen, or we can pay later, when they are in the state pen!"

We believe so strongly in the importance of passing the Youth PROMISE Act, we have spent years working on and promoting this bill, organizing and making presentations about it at Congressional hearings and briefings, and participating in this celebrity viral video in support of the Youth PROMISE Act:

Support for this critical legislation is not limited to movie actresses and policy wonks. The Youth PROMISE Act has enjoyed an overwhelming level of national support across the country, from law enforcement officials, educators, parents and families, corrections officials, the business community, children's advocates, the faith-based community, health and mental health practitioners, athletes, judges, musicians, Republicans and Democrats alike. In the 111th Congress, the Youth PROMISE Act had 235 bipartisan co-sponsors in the House, and 16 bipartisan co-sponsors in the Senate. A coalition of over 250 national, state and local organizations has supported the Act. Cities and counties across the country have passed resolutions in support of the Youth PROMISE Act, including Los Angeles, CA, Pasadena, CA, San Francisco, CA, Santa Fe County, NM, New York, NY, East Cleveland, OH, Pittsburgh, PA, Norfolk, VA, Newport News, VA, and Hampton, VA. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges has endorsed the Act. The U.S. Conference of Mayors, at their 77th Annual Meeting, adopted a resolution urging Congress to pass the Youth PROMISE Act. Sheriff Leroy David "Lee" Baca testified at a 2009 hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security: "The Youth PROMISE Act, is perhaps ... from a criminal justice reform perspective ... the most significant legislative act that this Congress will ever have considered in the history of the Congress."

The Youth PROMISE Act resonates across the political spectrum because it is community-based, accountable, and replicable. It makes sense, it will yield tremendous cost-savings, and it will make society safer. It will prevent violence, and preserve our most precious resource in this country: our children.

There is no excuse for the violence that exists in our country, or our failure to pass the Youth PROMISE Act before now. The good news, however, is that we can work together to create greater hope and promise for all of our children today. Every single one of us can start by signing this petition or calling our members of Congress at (202) 224-3121, and telling Congress to pass the Youth PROMISE Act once and for all.

Join us in standing up for our children, and supporting the Youth PROMISE Act.

Robin Wright is an award-winning actress and activist. Carol Chodroff is an attorney and policy consultant, and former Democratic Counsel to the United States House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary.