Drug Task Forces: House Passes Economic Stimulus Bill with Byrne Grant Funds Intact, Reform Advocates Mobilize

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.

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In a Thursday press release, the groups warned that "a 'stimulus' directed at law enforcement is misguided and could be counterproductive by increasing costly arrests and imprisonments for lower-level offenses." Instead, the groups called for the $4 billion to be spent on "more comprehensive approaches" that will reduce incarceration rates and decrease spending on jails, prisons, and police. They called for spending to be refocused on education, job training, treatment, and other programs shown to boost communities and local economies.

"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.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Nice shirts

I think those guys need to go to El Paso and Juarez, wearing the task force T-shirts! NOT! I thought I might like one! Then, I came to my senses!

Can you say "Tulia"? Maybe we need a CCJ type of organization in this country! (sarcasm)

Wrong diagnosis for communities

More police officers is the one thing that black communities around the country do not need. These Multi-Jurisdictional Task Forces already think that they live above the law. Illegal seizures and searches will be on the rise and more low-level users will be incarcerated at a higher rate. What was Pres. Obama thinking with this move. This is not Change we can believe in this is more of the same.

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