WASHINGTON -- The House Judiciary Committee approved a plan yesterday for the federal government to sponsor midnight basketball leagues in an attempt to slam-dunk crime by keeping young men off the streets.
The amendment to the Omnibus Crime Control Act of 1991 would allocate $5 million over the next two years to set up or expand basketball leagues that play games between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. in communities around the country.
"The basketball is the hook," said Gil Walker, commissioner of the Chicago Housing Authority's Midnight Basketball League. After their games, the players -- men aged 17 to 25 -- must attend workshops, classes and seminars aimed at giving them social skills and job training, he said.
"This program will add a little of what the crime bill needs -- an ounce of prevention," said its sponsor, Representative Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo.
Midnight basketball leagues already operate in public housing projects in Chicago and other cities. The new funds would help set up similar leagues for adolescents and young men living in suburbs, rural areas and inner-city neighborhoods.
Prince George's County has operated a midnight basketball team since 1986 using a combination of county and private funds, said the Rev. David G. Berg, one of the league's organizers and fund-raisers.
The league boasts 18 teams and 180 players. Developers and other businesses pay $1,500 to sponsor individual teams.
Of the initial 160 players in the Chicago midnight league, Mr. Walker said, 72 found jobs during their first year of play. The program has an immediate impact, Mr. Walker said, because it gets young men "to come in off the streets during a high-crime time." The Chicago league costs about $80,000 a year, and none of its 180 players have had trouble with the law during three years of operation, Ms. Schroeder said.
In contrast, she said, it costs $30,000 to keep one person in prison for a year.