U.S. Representative Michael Capuano Announces Introduction of Legislation to Protect Young Witnesses

May 24, 1999 -- Today, U.S. Representative Michael Capuano (D., MA) announced plans to file legislation that would protect young witnesses who have come forward with information regarding a crime. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Middlesex County District Attorney Martha Coakley and Norfolk Country District Attorney William Keating were among the individuals who joined Rep. Capuano at Boston Police Headquarters in Roxbury to make the announcement.

Rep. Capuano will file an amendment to H.R. 1501, the "Consequences for Juvenile Offenders Act of 1999", which is currently in the House Committee on the Judiciary. He will also introduce the "Protecting Young Witnesses Act of 1999".

"The heartbreaking story of young Jason Sadler highlights the need for legislation to protect young witnesses. Children who tell the truth should not be punished, nor should their lives be threatened, as a result of doing the right thing," Rep. Capuano stated.

Jason Sadler is the 14 year old Mission Hill youth forced to leave school and go into hiding after telling police about a robbery he witnessed. Since telling the truth, his life has been threatened by the young robbers and their associates.

Mayor Menino said, "We have taken some innovative approaches and dedicated a number of resources here to reduce crime and protect our young people. Boston is well known as a national model on this issue. Now, Congressman Capuano is helping us expand our efforts by providing needed resources for protecting young people who witness a crime. Since taking office in January, Congressman Capuano has demonstrated a willingness to take on real issues for people and this bill is another example. His legislation will expand Boston's success story by providing needed additional resources to increase our capacity to protect witnesses and effectively prosecute offenders."

The proposed amendment adds the following language to H.R. 1501: "providing funding for prosecutors for the purpose of establishing and maintaining juvenile witness assistance programs." This amendment allows state and local prosecutors to use federal block grants to develop juvenile witness assistance programs specifically targeted to the individual needs of their communities.

H.R. 1501 provides block grants to states and municipalities so that they may strengthen their juvenile justice systems. The bill authorizes $500 million a year for a period of three years to fund the grants and highlights a host of activities eligible for funding authorization. Some of these include:

  • Hiring additional prosecutors to handle more cases involving violent juvenile offenders;
  • Establishing juvenile gun courts for the prosecution of juvenile firearms offenders;
  • Establishing and maintaining accountability-based programs that are designed to enhance school safety.

Rep. Capuano's amendment would add juvenile witness assistance programs to the list of initiatives eligible for funding under H.R. 1501. Additionally, Rep. Capuano will file the "Protecting Young Witnesses Act of 1999", a bill to establish a separate, permanent grant program at the Department of Justice for state and local juvenile witness assistance programs. The bill would:

  • Allow state and local authorities to develop juvenile witness assistance programs that are tailored to meet the specific needs of their communities;
  • Include examples of specific activities that might be eligible for funding such as establishing a safe house, providing counseling services or creating an educational tutoring system,
  • Create a three-year authorization for the grant program;
  • Authorize an appropriation of $15 million for each fiscal year from FY2000 to FY 2002.

"States and municipalities cannot do it alone. The federal government can and should provide the funding mechanism to establish assistance for young witnesses. This will encourage more young people to come forward and help law enforcement authorities," Rep. Capuano stated.