By Jeffrey L. Boney
Special to the NNPA from the Houston Forward Times
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations unveiled a package of measures to provide young people in the criminal and juvenile justice systems much needed relief and protection.
Last week, Congresswoman Jackson Lee held a Congressional Briefing entitled “Conditions of Youth Confinement-From Entry to Release: What Happens to Youth Behind Bars?”
The Congresswoman was joined by the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), the Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), NAACP, the UNCF, the National Council of Churches, EXODUS, National Association of Evangelicals and the mother and brother of Kalief Browder.
The need for meaningful criminal justice reform is critical and the bipartisan support for reform is greater than ever. With these specific initiatives, the concept of law enforcement training will provide a roadmap for being a guardian and a protector for police departments in America.
Last week the Congresswoman introduced a package of measures to provide young people in the criminal and juvenile justice systems much needed relief and protection. These measures provide more humane laws and are provided for rehabilitation, to finish school, to go to college and to create opportunities for themselves and their family. In doing so, this legislation seeks to prevent another tragedy like that of young Kalief Browder, among others, who committed suicide after spending three years in Rikers, two of which in solitary, and to acknowledge the differences in the brain development and maturity of our young people in order to better respond to their needs and prevent recidivism.
“I have introduced three bills that focus on sentencing and incarceration in the federal system, expungement and sealing of federal convictions, and humane confinement of youth,” said Congresswoman Jackson Lee. “We are a law-abiding nation which includes all backgrounds, races, and religions. But by God’s grace we can have a better system.”
The legislation package Congresswoman Jackson Lee has introduced includes:
H.R. 3158, the Reforming Alternatives to Incarceration and Sentencing to Establish A Better Path for Youth Act of 2015 (RAISE Act):
- Expands the mandatory minimum safety valve for nonviolent incarcerated youth
- Increases the length of time an incarcerated youth can serve home confinement and expands the use of home confinement generally
- Ends mandatory life imprisonment for incarcerated youth and creates a review mechanism after 20 years for incarcerated youth serving decades long sentences to be transferred to supervised release
- Directs the Bureau of Prisons to provide specialized housing and programs for incarcerated youth
- Establishes pilot programs to give incarcerated youth the opportunity to receive mentorship and to obtain skills through government and community service
- Establishes pilot diversion programs for incarcerated youth who are high-risk, victims, or caretakers
- Limits the length of time an individual can be incarcerated for technical probation violations
H.R. 3156, The Fair Chance for Youth Act of 2015:
- Allows formerly incarcerated youth to petition and seek for expungement of federal misdemeanor and nonviolent drug offense convictions and sealing of federal nonviolent convictions
H.R. 3155, The Effective and Humane Treatment of Youth Act of 2015 or Kalief’s Law:
- Named in recognition of Kalief Browder, a young man who committed suicide after years of inhumane treatment in the Riker’s Correctional Facility, including two years of solitary confinement, would reauthorize the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant program
- Requires states receiving juvenile grant funding to implement policies and procedures to provide a right to speedy trial and timely bail consideration, and to ban youth solitary confinement
- Bans the use of solitary confinement for youth in federal facilities and allows the use of temporary separation in limited exigent circumstances that meet strict requirements
- Requires federal law enforcement to record all custodial interrogation of youth in federal custody and establishes preservation requirements and admissibility rules for such recordings
- Authorizes federal grant funds to support the recording of custodial interrogations by states
- Bans the shackling and restraint of youth during federal court appearances unless there are legitimate security concerns justifying the use of restraints
- Requires states receiving federal grant funding to implement policies and training programs specific to police-youth interactions
“While there has been a lot of discussion of how to improve law enforcement practices nationwide, these bills recognize that every law enforcement agency has different needs and that best practices must adapt to changes in communities and technology,” said Congresswoman Jackson Lee. “In doing so, I believe that any attempt at reform must have the wholesale support of our community in order to be successful.”