For the past couple of weeks, the nation was riveted by the case of Troy Davis and the unsuccessful efforts of individuals and civil rights organizations to prevent his execution in light of new evidence. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia) said that the incident highlighted the realities of capital punishment in the U.S. and that even in the light of significant guilt as to doubt that someone can be put to death.
“When people say they support the death penalty, they have to recognize what kind of death penalty we have. And the fact that the Troy Davis case will have people pause and reconsider their support for it if that’s the way it’s going to be applied,” he said at a discussion titled The CBC & the Evolution of the Criminal Justice System during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s annual legislative conference Friday.
Scott also talked about how important it is for state and local governments and community organizations to band together to find ways to reduce the high level of incarceration among African-Americans. It can be as simple as making sure that children participate in early childhood education programs like Head Start so that they are able to read by the time they enter third grade, which will make them much more willing students and set them on a path to graduate from high school prepared to enter a higher education institution or the workforce. It also would reduce teen pregnancy rates.
Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree, who participated in the discussion with Scott, said, “anyone applying a common sense approach to [the problem] would say that if we educate children, we reduce our criminal justice problem. If children are working, they will reduce our unemployment problem.”
Unfortunately, Scott noted, more resources are spent on counterproductive incarceration than on educational, teen pregnancy prevention, college access and other programs that would get and keep at-risk children, teens and young adults on the right track. If resources were spent in these areas, more money would be saved than spent because they wouldn’t be getting in trouble to begin with, Scott said.
Scott has introduced a bill in Congress called the Youth Promise Act that would help fund comprehensive plans to reach this goal. The Virginia lawmaker said that it would require any group that has anything to do with youth violence or working to prevent it, from after-school programs at the Boys & Girls Clubs to mental health clinics to law enforcement and court systems, to collaborate on finding ways to put to use the money he says is wasted on incarceration to create programs that will make young people want better futures for themselves.
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