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Feature: Narcs Cheer -- House Economic Stimulus Bill Would Give Byrne Grant Program $3 Billion Over Three Years

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #569)
Consequences of Prohibition

As part of the $825 billion economic stimulus bill passed by the House last week, the Democratic Party leadership and the Obama administration included $3 billion for the controversial Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, which funds multi-agency drug task forces across the country, and $1 billion for the Community Oriented Policing (COPS) program, which will pay for thousands of additional police officers to hit the streets. Drug enforcement lobby groups are pleased, particularly about the Byrne funding, but others predict that any "stimulus" more Byrne grants might provide will be followed long-term drag on state budgets in ways going beyond the federal dollars.

Sen. Harkin and Iowa law enforcement officials at 2004 press conference
In one of the few drug policy-related decisions made by the Bush administration that reformers could cheer, the Bush administration tried throughout its second term to reduce or eliminate funding for the Byrne grants. In so doing, it was heeding the concerns of conservative and taxpayer groups, who called the program "an ineffective and inefficient use of resources." But while the Bush administration tried to gut the program, Congress, still tied to the "tough on drugs" mentality, kept trying to restore funding, albeit at reduced levels.

The Byrne grant program, and especially its funding of the scandal-ridden multi-jurisdictional anti-drug task forces, also came in for harsh criticism from drug reform, civil rights and criminal justice groups. For these critics, the program was in dire need of reform because of incidents like the Tulia, Texas, scandal, where a Byrne-funded task force police officer managed to get 10% of the black population of the town locked up on bogus cocaine distribution charges. Scandals like Tulia showed the Byrne grant program "did more harm than good," the critics wrote in a 2006 letter demanding reform.

Of course, Tulia wasn't the only Byrne-related scandal. A 2002 report from the ACLU of Texas found 16 more scandals involving Byrne grant-funded task forces in Texas, including cases of witness tampering, falsifying of government records, fabricating evidence, false imprisonment, racial profiling, and sexual harassment. Byrne-related scandals have also occurred in other states, including the misuse of millions of dollars of grant money in Kentucky and Massachusetts, false convictions because of police perjury in Missouri, and making deals with drug offenders to drop or lower charges in exchange for cash or vehicles in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

In accord with its own budget-cutting imperatives, and in response to critics on the right and left, the Bush administration again tried to zero out the Byrne grant program in FY 2008. While the program was indeed cut from $520 million in 2007, Congress still funded it at $170 million for 2008. Now, it has folded the Byrne program and the Clinton-era COPS program into the emergency economic stimulus bill, leading to loud cheers from the law enforcement community.

"Safe communities are the foundation of a growing economy, and increased Byrne JAG funding will help state and local governments hire officers, add prosecutors and fund critical treatment and crime prevention programs," said National Criminal Justice Association President David Steingraber, executive director of the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance. "I applaud the stimulus bill proposed by the House Democrats and press Congress for its quick approval."

"This is very encouraging," said Bob Bushman, vice-president of the National Narcotics Officers Associations Coalition and a 35-year veteran of drug law enforcement in Minnesota. "We think it's a very good sign that this was included in the House bill. The House side was where we struggled in past years. Maybe now the House has listened to us and is taking our concerns more seriously," he said. "We built a broad coalition of law enforcement and drug treatment and prevention people."

Byrne money doesn't just fund the task forces, Bushman pointed out, although he conceded that's where much of the money has gone. "Byrne money goes to all 50 states, and most of them used it for the multi-jurisdictional task forces. Here in Minnesota, we split it between task forces and offender reentry programs and drug courts."

While a answer to just how much Byrne money has gone to the task forces remains buried deep in the bowels of the Justice Department -- part of the problem is that the 50 states are awarded block grants and then decide at the state level how to allocate the funds, and some states are better than others at reporting back to Justice -- observers put a low-ball figure of at least 25% going to fund them, and possibly much higher.

The task forces are needed, said Bowman. "While we are never going to arrest our way out of this, I've seen too much of the damage done by drug abuse, and we need all the help we can get," he said. "Not just for policing, but also for treatment and prevention and drug courts. We need all three pillars, and the Byrne program helps with all three."

If law enforcement was pleased, that wasn't the case with civil rights, taxpayer, and drug reform groups. They said they were disappointed in the restoration of funding under the auspices of the economic stimulus bill, and vowed to continue to try to either cut or reform the program.

"We're working on a letter to Congress about the Byrne grants right now," said Lawanda Johnson, communications director for the Justice Policy Institute, one of the organizations that had signed on to the 2006 DPA letter. "The Byrne grant program is not an effective use of funds for preserving public safety or stimulating the economy. The only way you will get an economic boost from this is if you own stock in Corrections Corporation of America," she laughed, grimly.

"With so many smart people working on the budget and the stimulus package, you would think they would understand that the states are looking to reduce their prison populations and change those policies that have jailed so many people," said Johnson. "To then turn around and have the federal government invest $4 billion in more police and more grants seems paradoxical. It's just going to jack up the spending for states and localities, and they are already struggling."

"We oppose the wasteful economic stimulus bill and we oppose the inclusion of the Byrne grants in it," said Leslie Paige, spokesperson for Citizens Against Government Waste, one of the conservative taxpayer groups that has opposed the grants for the past several years. "If there is going to be government spending, the least you can do is make sure the money is going to have a long term positive impact on the economy."

"This is disappointing, but not surprising," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "This reverses Bush's cuts in the program and restores funding at even higher levels. At the same time Congress and the Obama administration are expressing great concern about racial disparities and over-incarceration, they keep trying to fund this program, which will only stimulate more arrests of more nonviolent drug offenders," Piper noted.

"The Democrats are framing this as helping in these tough economic times, but the people who will be arrested will end up in state prison, and the states will have to pay for that," Piper pointed out. "The states may well end up paying more in the long run. It's far from clear that this will stimulate the economy, but what is clear is that it will stimulate the breaking up of families and decreasing productivity and tax revenues, especially in communities already devastated by the impact of over-incarceration."

Killing funding outright is unlikely, said Piper. "I don't think there's any way we can stop this from being included because the support for it is strong and bipartisan," he said. "No one wants to go up against the police. Our real hope is that later in the year we can put some restrictions on the program, which is what we've been working on. Instead of trying to cut it, we can try to use it to encourage state and local law enforcement to change how they operate. They're so addicted to federal funding that they may do just about anything, such as documenting arrests or having performance measures."

Bushman and the rest of law enforcement aren't resting easy just yet. "The funding has to survive hearings and make it into the final appropriation," he noted. "This is not a done deal yet."

But it looks like Congress is well on the way to funding three more years of Byrne grants at $1 billion a year, the highest level of funding in years. And don't forget the 13,000 new police officers to be funded for the next three years by the COPS program. If Congress and the cops have their way, we can look forward to more drug busts, more prosecutions, more people sentenced to prison, and a greater burden on already deficit-ridden state budgets.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


aahpat (not verified)

This is a prime example of why I distrusted and did not support Barack Obama. He is a right-wing pandering thug who will use the drug war the way all right-wing pandering Democrats have used the drug war, as a means of pandering for white right-wing votes.

Obama conned the drug policy reform community into supporting him using vague hints of reform innuendo and flat out double-speak. Watch now as he appoints someone like Mark Souder to the ONDCP.

Fri, 01/23/2009 - 12:40pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Obama had a zero record of any sorts of accomplishments; he was catapulted into the American consciousness by an adoring media. His mantra of change? His administration looks EXACTLY like the Clinton administration, which, to the best of my knowledge, still holds the record for most drug arrests in a year, most for simple possession. This should not be read as written by a supporter of the Republicans; I am a Libertarian.

Fri, 01/23/2009 - 2:29pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Barrack will, as predicted by millions of freedom minded libertarians everywhere, be just another populist dictator. Which will continue as long as the criminals in government continue to define the crimes by passing illegal laws while pretending to 'promote the general welfare'.

News flash 'freedom flunkies'.... promoting something is supposed to be non-coercive... after the examination and discussion of the facts. Words like proclaim, mandate, dictate, etc... is not a form of promotion.... because they are coercive... therefore criminal.

And as long as the citizenry remains 'faithful' to people who deserve little to no faith we shall continue to have our self-evident inalienable rights ripped from us in the name of promoting the general welfare.

Our rally cry should and always be: End Prohibition Or Perish... EPOP for short!

Which can only happen if we , the citizenry, make a whole hearted effort, using force as it will be necessary, to return our once great nation - now an empire in decline due to massive greed, corruption, and fraud - back to the rule of (lawful) laws.

I once had a debate with my elected liartician about the rule of lawful laws... his primary defense was quite nixonesque... if politicians make the laws they can't be illegal... what a fucking moron & rhub he remains today.

Fri, 01/23/2009 - 2:47pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

This is the bill that was drafted before Obama was inaugurated that was developed by the House Appropriations Committee and the House Democratic leadership.

These comments condemning Obama are unwarranted. It is clear that the authors were looking for a pretext to attack him.

Fri, 01/23/2009 - 5:13pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Due to an unspoken US Government policy, the prohibitionists have all the say when it comes to drug policy discussion. In fact, all that is discussed is how they are going to continue ramming prohibition down the throats of unwilling Americans. Prohibition is a counter productive failure & a self fulfilling disaster. Everyday that passes prohibition creates more demand for the forbidden fruit. Everyday that passes prohibition make the drug cartels more powerful, corrupting, and deadly. Everyone must contact their elected officials and politely demand the end of marijuana prohibition via legalization. The numbers are on our side. When enough people contact their leaders they will be heard. politicians are very good at listening to the voters when it means keeping their jobs. Let your leaders know that you will be voting for whoever supports ending prohibition. Do it today & keep contacting them until we get change for the better. No one else can or will do this for you. Remember, only you can help stamp out prohibition.

Fri, 01/23/2009 - 5:41pm Permalink
aahpat (not verified)

will probably revise the Gitmo closing plan to hold drug prisoners once the Byrne grants start over-filling already over-crowded state prisons.

I predict that someone along the lines of Mark Souder will be offered up as the New Director of the ONDCP.

Bend over and spread-um. Here comes change.....

Fri, 01/23/2009 - 10:55pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

TRAITOR! I am at a loss for words. At moments like these I am reduced to screaming: WHY DO THEY HATE US? We are NOT society's enemy. We have never done ANYTHING to society, but they have done plenty to us. They continue to make war on us, to demonize us, to attempt to deprive us of the right to be free, the right to own property, the right to raise children, the right to obtain and keep a job, the right to apply for financial aid, and the right to receive life-saving organ transplants.

Why they hate us so much they cannot say. They've never given it any real thought but are nonetheless convinced that we are inherently inferior, that we are undeserving of the same freedoms they enjoy and that they are justified in oppressing us; this is the nature of prejudice and bigotry. It's as if society always needs a domestic enemy; a boogey-man to blame everything on. It used to be that conservative white society blamed everything on African Americans, Latinos and Jews. When such stupidity went out of style in the 60's, they scrambled to find a new scapegoat on which to dump their trash in a way that didn't sound racist. It was at that point that 'drugs' became the 'enemy.'

The fact is that every culture is a 'drug culture.' Western society has for thousands of years been an 'alcohol culture.' We drink at weddings, sporting events, company parties and presidential inaugurations.

Alcohol is a recreational drug; when people drink they are engaging in recreational drug use. As long as it's done in a responsible manner, recreational drug use is widely accepted as a normal part of a healthy adult lifestyle. Irresponsible use is frowned upon, but not criminalized.

This 'war' is not about drugs, it's about culture. It's about one type of American culture that prefers alcohol as its drug of choice making war on another type of American culture that prefers cannabis; a cultural 'cleansing' campaign. It is a 'dirty' war, i.e. a one-sided civil war in which the government fights against its people but the people don't fight back.

For too long we have tolerated this abuse; we have lived in the shadows and allowed ourselves to be raped and robbed by a system that is supposed to be protecting our right to pursue happiness. We have watched as every other part of society (minorities, women, gays) was granted tolerance and told that they were now officially allowed to partake in the American dream. For us, the policy continues to be 'zero tolerance,' even for our very existence.

If this is what we can expect from a supposedly progressive administration that claims to value science over ideology, then the time has come to stop asking nicely. Our innocent brothers and sisters continue to be rounded up and caged like animals every day. When people are attacked, there are only two possible responses: fight or flight. We have spent our entire lives running and hiding. Liberty is more precious than life. It is time to fight.

I do NOT advocate violence of any kind, but I do advocate peaceful protests; and lots of them. Not just once a year in Washington, D.C., we need to swamp the system with huge weekly protests on every campus and in every city in America. The support is out there; we have the numbers to do it. Once the cycle of protests gets started, it will grow with a vengeance.

This issue is much like civil rights in the 60's. The people desperately wanted an end to segregation, every logical argument was on the side of reform, but the government refused to listen. Ancient old bigots in Congress and in state governments were still clinging to the ignorance and racism of the past.

The time came for the people to rise up and FORCE a change rather than merely asking for one. That time has come again.

"There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part, you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!"
- Mario Savio, December 2, 1964

Fri, 01/23/2009 - 11:18pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with giving Obama a little more time but we need to help push for an end to prohibition every single day. I make it a policy to call atleast one of our 3 Monterey Bay News stations every day with a cool rational new take every time. It's a lot of fun and they even aired one of my phone messages today! We've got to get the media swamped and get re-legalization a main stream topic. Come on folks---let's warm it up and break the drug war insanity. We have the high ground, we expose every prohibitionist argument as moronic as the morons spouting them; we just need to make the issue blazing hot and keep it hot.

Sat, 01/24/2009 - 1:08am Permalink
aahpat (not verified)

is money for more crime in America.

As more police criminalize more Americans they are classifying those Americans as second class and locking those Americans out of the legitimate economy. By locking them out of the economy the congress's Byrne Grants in fact and reality GROW the criminal sub-class in America that is dependent on crime for their economic sustenance. Crime including selling drugs to yet another generation of American children.

Byrne Grants sustain, grow and promote the criminal and addict populations of America.

For this reason the Byrne Grants violate the United States Constitution which mandates politicians to protect the public safety.

Sat, 01/24/2009 - 11:59am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

so Bush was going to zero out (eliminate) the program responsible for the Tulia terrorism and now Obama's revamping it full scale. The more things change the more they....get Worse! WTF.

Sat, 01/24/2009 - 12:41pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

so the stimulas package includes money for narcoterrorist to frame, arrest and imprison non violent us citizens. obama you suck!

nwo is here and i fuckin voted 4 it shit I was fooled again

Sat, 01/24/2009 - 12:47pm Permalink
mlang52 (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Wait a little bit and things might change. But, I watched and listened to the issues, and I would have never voted for either of the duopoly. I am against gun control, and it could happen in this administration's term. It is the common democrat stance. And the Republicans acted like communists at my state convention. There is no way I can accept their political manipulation and suppression of the public's opinions.

Even being an opposition person, I still think it is still too early to tell, with this issue, how things are going to fall in place. But the "change" president is not doing his job, so far!

Sun, 01/25/2009 - 12:38pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

It won't cost the government money, it will earn them money as it, umm, stimulates the economy and benefits consumers. It should be a no-brainer, you can't get high from it. Guess that would be too science based for the new administration. Can't take this science based policy thing too far now.

Sat, 01/24/2009 - 2:12pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

We need to call it what it is- criminal mercantilism civil rights violations for cigarette market protection.

Sat, 01/24/2009 - 9:53pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Be sure we are there MMM on 07/04/2009!!!!!!!!!!
brother john

Sun, 01/25/2009 - 8:36am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

You're right, cannabis prohibition is protectionism, not just for tobacco but also for killer alcohol, and big pharma's products with all their side effects, and also for cotton growers (and the herbicide makers who they depend on) who have played a despicable role in the prohibition of hemp, an idiotic by any standards policy. And for all the other special interests making a living off of smashing the lives of cannabis users. Rural prisons providing otherwise non-existant employment to give a key example- I saw a quote recently from someone who was blunt about it- he ain't voting against his and his community's livelihood, that's the only issue for him. What a degenerate way to deal your fellow citizens.

Sun, 01/25/2009 - 12:03pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

That makes sense to me. Medical marijuana is ripe for possible rapid progress due to the science that is coming out and to overwhelming public support. And July 4, the day Americans celebrate their liberty, sure sounds like the right day to me.

Sun, 01/25/2009 - 12:15pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified) the MMM '09 going to take place? Were it to be, that Souder the Sow, get's the nod ....Jeez, I can not take any more republicrats...or is it demopubs?

Sun, 01/25/2009 - 2:04pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

* War on drugs is out of control; revert control to states. (Dec 2007)
* Repeal most federal drug laws; blacks are treated unfairly. (Sep 2007)
* Inner-city minorities are punished unfairly in war on drugs. (Sep 2007)
* $500B on War on Drugs since 1970s has been a total failure. (Sep 2007)
* Legalize industrial hemp. (Jan 2007)
* Drug War fosters violence at home & breeds resentment abroad. (Oct 2001)
* Societal inconsistency on alcohol contributes to drug use. (Dec 1987)
* Voted NO on military border patrols to battle drugs & terrorism. (Sep 2001)
* Voted NO on subjecting federal employees to random drug tests. (Sep 1998)
* War on Drugs has abused Bill of Rights . (Dec 2000)
* Legalize medical marijuana. (Jul 2001)
* Rated A by VOTE-HEMP, indicating a pro-hemp voting record. (Dec 2003)
* Rated +30 by NORML, indicating a pro-drug-reform stance. (Dec 2006)
* Allow rehabilitated drug convicts get student loans. (Jan 2008)
* Ban federal funding for needle-exchange programs. (Mar 1999)

Sun, 01/25/2009 - 4:01pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

A lot of people wouldn't have to waste so much time searching for a basic staple of their lives, just like brewski but safer, and would be able to put that wasted time to productive use (wasted and sometimes dangerous too, a would be marijuana buyer got robbed and shot dead in my small rural county last year).

Mon, 01/26/2009 - 12:21am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Or, ? It seems since the number one question on "change .gov" has been skirted twice, it pretty well concludes their stance on marijuana reform.

Mon, 01/26/2009 - 6:19am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

This cannot happen to this country. When will we learn that we cant afford to do this anymore. My neighbors are homeless I know students who cant study and the economy bringing everybody down we are just making drug abuse more appealing. Stop this cycle. Our website is coming soon. Start a coalition in your area.

Mon, 01/26/2009 - 1:42pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I have just read and signed the petition: "Legalize marijuana and end the senseless "War on Drugs'".

Please take a moment to read about this important issue, and join me in signing the petition. It takes just 30 seconds, but can truly make a difference. We are trying to reach 1000 signatures - please sign here:

Once you have signed, you can help even more by asking your friends and family to sign as well.

Thank you! Alan

Thu, 01/29/2009 - 5:10am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

It amazes me that even on the verge of bankruptcy, this PoS,
corrupt-to-the-core collection of self-serving lobbyists, unions, politicians, unregistered foreign agents, and other undesireables posing as the legitimate US gov't, manages
to "find" the $100 billion or so in taxpayer funds(or perhaps more accurately at this point, our unborn grandchildrens' yet to be earned wages, taxed 30 years in advance), to continue funding this overtly unconstitutional, immoral and long running collosal failure, even as the Ship of State is listing heavily and taking on water. Maybe after it sinks they might finally leave us the hell alone? I for one, certainly wouldn't shed a tear if
the ship should succumb to the storm of it's own making, and slip beneath the surface, since it never provided me any accomodations yet continues to charge me passage year after year. The innaugeration of Obama was simply a case of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic - no real plans to change course nor accomodate the 20 million or so of us American taxpayers who are forced to pay for her maintaince, fuel, upkeep and crew -meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Tue, 02/10/2009 - 6:12am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

i have never seen a group of idiots this large. i didnt think most of the crack addicts and pot smoking morons had computers.. go figure.

the byrne grant is a fantastic thing that has enabled countless people trapped in their home by the drug dealing gang bangers feel like they can at least go and check their mail without being hassled by addicts and prostitutes by locking them up and keeping them out of society and in the cages that they belong in.

and when you idiots need the police, call a pot dealer instead. with morons like you on the bus, its destined to go right off the cliff.

or hey, move to the netherlands.

Tue, 02/17/2009 - 2:00pm Permalink

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