WASHINGTON, D.C. | October 8, 2015 -
Some may be wondering why the Education and the Workforce Committee is holding a hearing on an issue that might otherwise fall under the Judiciary Committee’s purview. After all, the words “crime,” “court,” “judge,” and “jail” are not terms we frequently hear in this committee. So why are we here today? Because keeping our communities safe and supporting at-risk youth requires more than an adjudication system and a detention facility. It requires education, rehabilitation, and family participation—a joint effort by parents, teachers, community members, and civic leaders to prevent criminal behavior and support children who have engaged in illegal activity.
The stakes are high for these youth and the communities they live in. Research shows children who have been incarcerated are up to 26 percent more likely to return to jail as adults. They are also 26 percent less likely to graduate high school. These are hardly the outcomes vulnerable children and their families deserve. They also have detrimental short- and long-term effects on our society, imposing costs onto taxpayers and jeopardizing the safety of others.
This is an issue that directly impacts our families and our neighborhoods, and we all have a role to play in addressing it. Recognizing the value of a collaborative approach to juvenile justice, Congress passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act in 1974. The goal of the law is to educate at-risk youth and rehabilitate juvenile offenders so they can become productive members of society.
The law is based on the premise that the juvenile justice system can create positive opportunities for children who would otherwise go without. As we will hear from our witnesses, many juvenile justice programs have helped children develop the life skills they need to hold themselves accountable and earn their own success. Of course, not all programs have experienced the same results. That’s why states and communities are constantly looking for new ways to better serve at-risk youth.
For example, many states are investing in alternatives to juvenile detention facilities—such as community- and family- based support services—to help children get back on track. It appears these efforts are making a difference. Between 2001 and 2011, crime and incarceration declined dramatically across the country. The rate of incarceration fell by 46 percent, and the rate of juvenile offenses fell by 31 percent.
While these trends are heading in the right direction, we still face the stark reality that there are more than two million children involved in the juvenile justice system. Meanwhile, many more are at-risk of entering the system because of difficult circumstances that too often lead to juvenile delinquency, such as poverty, broken families, and homelessness.
As we discuss ways to better serve at-risk youth and juvenile offenders through education and rehabilitation, we have the privilege today of hearing from Sloane Baxter, someone who faced many of these challenges as a juvenile offender and who knows firsthand how community-based programs can set youth on a better path. Mr. Baxter, thank you for the example you’re setting. By sharing your story with us today, you’re helping make a difference in the lives of others. We look forward to hearing from you and the rest of our distinguished witnesses.
Before I conclude my opening remarks, I want to commend our colleague, Ranking Member Scott, for his long-standing leadership on this important issue. I look forward to hearing from him today and to working with him in the future.