Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Statement Of Mark J. Pelavin From The Press Conference On S. 10, The
September 30, 1997

In the Book of Proverbs, we are taught: "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." The lessons we teach our youth will, indeed, remain with them forever. What lesson, then is the "Violent and Repeat Juvenile Offender Act" teaching?

Although its provisions to fund crime-fighting are commendable and needed, there is no funding authorized for the prevention of crime, not a nickel to get at the root of crime, and not a penny to stop the cycle of juvenile crime before it starts.

With this legislation, Congress would be appointing adult criminals to serve as the role models and teachers of our children. Youth offenders would be permitted to be incarcerated in adult jails, to receive their life lessons from adult inmates instead of from youth, family, and educational rehabilitative services. Children whose so-called crimes are those of status - truants, runaways, and ungovernable children - rather than those of violence are also at risk under this legislation. Instead of providing social services such as halfway houses or foster care, counseling, or alternative education, this act allows juvenile status offenders to be jailed alongside of delinquents and even adult criminals.

This legislation would, in fact, remove some children entirely from the educational system at exactly the time when they most need assistance. Without providing any sort of educational alternative, children in possession of tobacco, drugs, or alcohol will be expelled from school. No mental health, educational, drug, or other social services are provided.

The Reform Jewish movement resolved in 1968 to reaffirm the Biblical concept that the criminal is a human being, and capable of reshaping his or her life. As stated in Ezekiel, "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live." Rather than inflicting unproductive and harsh punishment, and curtailing civil liberties, we should treat the causes of crime and disorder and reject proposals which ignore those causes by emphasis upon vengeful or unconstitutional means.

We cannot in good conscience allow this bill to pass as it stands. We have a responsibility to our children to provide for them, to educate them, and to keep them safe from harm. We must have strength enough to be compassionate, to help these offenders turn their lives around, and to work for the prevention of crime.

Let us give life to our children rather than take their lives away.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing 1.5 million Reform Jews and 1,800 Reform rabbis in more than 860 congregations throughout North America.

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