House Cracks Down on Young Offenders under Bill, More Teens Would Be Tried as Adults

Article excerpt

The House overwhelmingly passed on Thursday a get-tough bill that orders adult trials for violent offenders barely into their teens.

The bill, if enacted, would bring about a sweeping change in federal handling of juvenile crime by ending the notion that violent offenders of 15, 14 or even 13 should be treated as youngsters and their offenses considered childhood misdeeds.

The vote was 286-132, with 77 Democrats joining 209 Republicans in backing the bill. Voting against it were 122 Democrats, nine Republicans and one independent. All Republicans in Missouri's delegation voted for the bill, as did Democrats Pat Danner and Ike Skelton. Democratic Reps. Richard A. Gephardt and Karen McCarthy voted against it, and William Clay did not vote. Among Southern Illinois lawmakers, Republican John Shimkus voted yes and Democrat Glenn Poshard voted no. Democrat Jerry Costello did not vote. Americans are "shocked by the brutality and viciousness of crimes that are being committed by 13- and 14- and 15-year-olds, and they're equally shocked when they see a system that treats these juveniles as something less than the predators they seem to be," said Rep. George Gekas, R-Pa. President Bill Clinton's administration and the Republican-led Congress wanted to impose severe treatment on some juvenile offenders. But the administration did not support the House measure, largely because it did not include money for crime prevention and did not require that child safety locks be provided with gun purchases. The administration also wanted funding targeted to hire prosecutors to focus on gang-related crimes and greater flexibility for prosecutors in trying juveniles as adults. The issue now goes to the Senate. The House bill applies to federal crimes. But it tries to persuade states to transform their own juvenile justice systems by offering $1.5 billion in incentive grants over three years. To be eligible for the money, states would have to, among other things, try 15-year-olds as adults for serious violent crimes, require that open criminal records be established for minors after a second offense and ensure that there are escalating penalties for every juvenile crime. In 1995, the Missouri Legislature passed a bill that required juveniles to be treated by authorities as adults for any of seven felonies - first- and second-degree murder, first-degree assault, forcible rape or sodomy, first-degree robbery and distribution of drugs. …