Debate has heated up over a piece of legislation Rep. Bobby Scott sponsored about a year ago. H.R 1064/S.435, the Youth PROMISE Act. PROMISE stands for “The Youth Promise through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education.
Bobby Scott says the way to reduce gang violence and membership is through prevention using “evidence-based” strategies”. (strategies which are not defined by the bill)
Randy Forbes (who originally co-sponsored the bill but now says it won’t work) claims we need stiffer jail sentencing to deter gangs.
Now everyone is asking the question, who is right, which strategy is correct. The Virginian-Pilot is putting up polls, the commentors are picking sides and arguing their position.
The problem is, it doesn’t matter which position is correct (if either) the bill does neither of these things. Once again, the people and the Virginian-Piliot are missing the point and asking the wrong questions.
The purpose of this bill is not gang prevention, both Scott and Forbes know this and I know it too.
There already several such bills on the books, they pop up every couple years to serve a specific purposes which are delineated below:
1) Distribute wealth. It will take very minute amounts of money from large groups of individuals and give large amounts of money to small groups of individuals. The money taken from the large groups of people will be small enough where they won’t notice it from this one particular law and therefore will have no incentive to fight it. They simply won’t care or won’t see it worth their time since the gain will be small. For those who will be enriched by the bill, they have a lot to gain and will fight for it and pledge their support and money to Scott in future elections. You don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you.
2) Look like you are doing something. It doesn’t matter that there are plenty of these bills on the books. Come election time, Rep. Scott will say, “I passed this bill, I reduced gang violence, I helped the community.” It won’t matter whether gang activity went up, went down, or stayed the same or what the reasons behind those trends are, it won’t be quantified and he won’t be called out on it. Now you can’t be labeled as “soft on crime”. Civic leaders will eat it up, they will probably be getting rich off it, Bobby Scott will be re-elected by a land-slide.
3) These bills are “Earmark Havens”. They aren’t there yet, but you better believe they will after this bill leaves committee and goes to the floor. Why? because nobody will dare vote against it (except Ron Paul). Again, what the bill contains and what it does (which I will detail later) do not matter, only the title does. If you vote against it, your opponent come election time will label you as “soft on gangs“. It doesn’t matter how many earmarks get attached and how egregious they are, no one will want the label. Besides, most Congressman won’t care about the excessive earmarks others are attaching to the bill because they will be too busy trying to add their own. It is very safe to deliver their kick-backs.
So why is Randy Forbes having a change of heart on the bill? I can only make assumptions, but here they are:
1) The Republican voting base loves police officers and para-military organizations. He wants different people to get the money. Bobby Scott is looking to enrich civic leaders and people who set-up non-profits, where Randy Forbes wants it to police organizations who “keep a close eye” on citizens and their activities.
2) Those of us who are in the large groups that pay for these types of political payoffs are tired of getting nickel and dimed. It is starting to add up and so when another bill sporting 2 billion dollars over five years in additional spending comes along, Forbes will find it in his best interest to oppose it in the wake of the “health care bill, cap and trade, and ARRA. He can appeal to more voters that way and claim he is a wasteful spending hawk.
So, what does the bill actually do?
The simple answer is provide us with more government bureaucracy and a political pay-off delivery system.
Several new bureaucracies are added with appropriations for grant money and a few existing bureaucracies are given appropriations to dispense as they please. The bill does not really address anything else. The qualifications to receive grant money are NOT provided. The methods and strategies to prevent gang violence are NOT provided. The goals of the bill are NOT provided. Measures or success or effectiveness are NOT provided. How much money people can give away IS provided.
The main focus of the bill is amending the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (I guess they didn’t spend as much time thinking up cool acronyms in the 70’s) to form a PROMISE advisory panel. The panel will function as part of the DOJ and regulate and monitor PROMISE panels on the state and local level. This advisory is the key component is asset allocation and were you will want to send the lobbyists for your “non-profit” organization.
There are other places though to go seeking cash, so you won’t need to place all your eggs in one basket. The US Attorney General will get 10 mil a yr through 2014 to provide grants to public/private entities to prevent or alleviate the effects of youth violence. (This does not sound like the AG’s job to me).
But you don’t need to go directly to the AG if you don’t want to. Under the AG will be the Center of Youth-Oriented Policies and the Director of the National Institute of Justice.
The DOJ will also add the National Research Center for Proven Juvenile Justice Practices. This new bureaucracy will get 5 million a year in funding and responsible for collecting and disseminating information to the PROMISE councils. (I will offer to do this job. Give me 1 thousand dollars, I’ll set up an FTP site and a Facebook group page. It’s win-win. The job will get done all the same at lower cost and I will make a great profit.)
The list simply continues. It will establish the Interagency Gang Prevention Task Force, which takes members of other gang task forces and puts them together. It add the Office of Community Oriented Policy Service, again just to hand out unspecified monetary grants. ect,ect, ect.
So, what questions need to be asked? Prevention? Tougher Sentencing? Or do we ask ourselves if we need to continue centralizing money and power in DC? Will we continue to allow our elected representatives to take our money and hand it over to their supporters under the guise of doing good?
How do I think we need to curb gang violence? – I don’t know, that isn’t the purpose of this bill and we shouldn’t pretend that it is. I do know these additional bureaucracies will fix nothing. The solutions will have to come from individuals, from parents, religious leaders, from government removing itself as a barrier to individual success. Each individual situation will be different and must be treated as such, government legislation can not do that.
Did I miss anything?