Representative and panel of advocates discussed stopping gang violence and school-to-prison pipeline

Richmond, VA -- A group of advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union, joined Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) yesterday to call on the Virginia community, as well as political and law enforcement leaders, to end the school-to-prison pipeline, the trend of increasingly funneling young people from the school system to the criminal justice system.
Panelists discussed Rep. Scott’s Youth PROMISE Act as part of an alternative, focusing on preventing young people from committing crimes and joining gangs rather than just relying on the criminal justice system to punish youths who have broken the law.
“In this nation, we should be creative enough to figure out how to prevent violence while still making sure that everyone's rights of free association and due process are protected,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “Scott's Youth PROMISE Act does precisely that by focusing on prevention rather than punishment."
Under Rep. Scott’s Youth Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education (PROMISE) Act, communities facing the greatest youth gang and crime challenges will form councils, which will develop comprehensive plans for implementing prevention and intervention strategies targeting young people who are at-risk for joining gangs or becoming involved with the criminal justice system. As part of the program, specially-trained officers will tackle juvenile delinquency and gang activity, and the strategies will be based on research and evidence-based practices.
Jesselyn McCurdy, a legislative counsel for the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, talked about the need to address gang violence at its roots by making sure communities have the resources to intervene in children’s lives before it’s too late.
"Sticking handcuffs on a problem won’t make it go away. The criminal justice system has a role to play in ending gang violence, but to rely solely on it isn’t just naïve, it’s irresponsible, and it doesn’t work,” said McCurdy. “Before we talk about second chances, we need to give young people a first chance. We need to prevent gang membership before it starts, and the ACLU applauds Representative Scott’s bill for taking the first step."
Contact: Kent Willis, 804/644-8022