As Congress re-convenes this week, we are going to take a look at two issues that will be discussed by the legislature in the coming weeks: mental health and juvenile justice.
In the aftermath of the Columbine high school shootings, Congress has taken up legislation that will seek to toughen sentences for juvenile offenders and introduce additional gun control provisions. The National Rifle Association is trying to build opposition to Senate-passed legislation that requires background checks for all guns bought at gun shows.
But as the public focuses on the gun control debate, we are going to take a look at a little-known aspect of the juvenile justice legislation: the issue of racial disparity in the arrest, trial and sentencing of juveniles. According to Justice Department figures, in nearly every state, minority youth are over-represented in every stage of the juvenile justice system.
This past month, the Senate passed the “Violent Repeat Juvenile Offender Accountability and Rehabilitation Act,” which eliminated the seven-year old federal requirement that States keep track of racial disparities in the juvenile justice system and address them. Senator Paul Wellstone voted against the Act, and the legislation is now before the House.
On the issue of mental health, President Clinton is ordering federal health plans to give parity to insurance for mental illness. He made the announcement at a first-ever White House conference on mental health. The session heard from those afflicted by mental illness–including Vice President Gore’s wife Tipper–about how hard it was for them to confront the truth about their illness. Mrs.Gore sought treatment for depression after a 1989 car accident seriously injured her son.
- Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MINN).