Programs aimed at preventing youth crime and violence and strengthening the juvenile justice system have suffered dramatic declines in funding in recent years. Yesterday the House voted to continue that trend, when it approved H.R. 2862, a bill funding the Departments of State, Justice, and Commerce and other agencies by a vote of 418 to 7. The legislation provides $299 million for juvenile justice and delinquency prevention programs in fiscal year 2006, a $47.5 million drop off from last year’s level ($346.5 million).
The House rejected recommendations made by the President in his budget this year that would have slashed juvenile justice programs by 46 percent from last year’s level. The Senate Appropriations committee is expected to consider their version of spending bill on June 23.
The weakening federal commitment to delinquency prevention programs is particularly distressing in light of the overwhelming unmet need. According to Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, delinquency prevention activities such as after-school programs reach only a fraction of the children who could benefit from them. After-school programs give children constructive activities during the critical hours of 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., “prime time for juvenile crime.” Fourteen million children are left home alone after school every week.
One study of high school freshman randomly assigned to participate in a four-year after-school enrichment program proves the effectiveness of after-school activities in crime prevention. Compared to those in the program, boys left out averaged six times more criminal convictions. Boys who participated in the program were half as likely to drop out of high school and more than twice as likely to continue their education after high school.
Congress has also stepped away from funding programs aimed at rehabilitating and reducing recidivism among youth who have entered the juvenile justice system. In fiscal year 2002, the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JABG) was funded at nearly $250 million. Last year Congress provided just $54.6 million. Cutting funding for juvenile crime prevention is fiscally irresponsible in the long-term. One comprehensive program funded through the JABG – Multi Systemic Therapy – has reduced rates of re-arrest among youth by 25 to 70 percent. Every juvenile served by this program produces a net savings of $32,000 (from the reduction in future crime).
In fiscal year 2002, Congress provided $546.9 million for juvenile justice and delinquency prevention programs. That year Congress reauthorized the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant and the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, merging and rearranging funding categories for juvenile justice. But Congress began to cut funding the very next year. Last year’s level of $346.5 million represents a 41 percent drop in total funding for juvenile justice programs, once inflation is taken into account.
Community Development Block Grant
The total cost of the bill approved yesterday was about 5 percent lower than the President recommended because Congress rejected his plans to consolidate 18 separate community development programs, reduce their funding and move them to the Department of Commerce. Instead, Congress will continue to fund the Community Development Block Grant within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The HUD spending bill was marked up in subcommittee on June 15 and included money for the Community Development Block Grant.