The US House of Representatives Wednesday passed the $819 billion economic stimulus bill endorsed by the Democratic leadership and President Obama. The $4 billion in "public safety" funding in the bill includes $3 billion for the Byrne Justice Action Grant program and $1 billion for the Community Oriented Policing (COPS) program. (For detailed coverage of the Byrne grant program, which funds multi-jurisdictional anti-drug task forces, see our story last week here.) But reform advocates, including 15 national organizations, are calling for the funding to be removed or redirected and hoping the Senate will listen.
"Economic security is a crucial element of an effective public safety strategy, but this funding will stimulate neither Main Street nor safe streets," said Tracy Velázquez, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute (JPI), a research organization that studies alternatives to incarceration. "Instead of placing our limited resources in the most expensive, deep end of the system -- police and prisons -- it's time we move more funding upstream, to the kinds of jobs and programs that are proven to promote safety and support communities."
Under the Bush administration, both the Byrne grants and the COPS program were slashed because they were "not able to demonstrate an impact on reducing crime," and the Byrne grants' "lack of long-term goals and measures inhibited targeting of resources to address crime needs," as the Office of Management and Budget put it.
"A $4 billion mistake now will be magnified in the future; jails and prisons will continue to grow at the expense of states and counties, which will be forced to find funds to imprison people by cutting critical community services," said Velázquez. "Let's seize this opportunity to move in the right direction by investing in a more positive future."
The bill now heads to the Senate.
The groups calling for eliminating the Byrne grant and COPS funding are: the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Humane Association, the American Psychological Association, the Center for Children's Law and Policy, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative, the Justice Policy Institute, the Open Society Policy Center, the National Black Police Association, the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, the Rebecca Project for Human Rights, the Sentencing Project, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the United Methodist Church, and Youth Represent.