Sunday, January 09, 2005

New Solutions: Raid hot-check and asset forfeiture funds to pay for drug treatment

Ann at Solutions for Texas has posted her own set of big picture solutions for Texas' overincarceraton crisis, focusing on "less expensive options that decrease crime." She's carved them up into bite-size chunks, but taken together, they're a must read for anyone interested in Texas criminal justice policy and sentencing reform. She advises the Legislature to:

Especially interesting is her take on ways to fund these improvements. Some money sources Grits readers are aware already of, like reducing low-level drug sentences or redirecting federal Byrne grant money. But she also proposes installing telephones in prison so prisoners can speak to their loved ones and the prison can generate revenue. And she's identified a new, deep-pocketed source that could finance a lot of new drug treatment programs and probation services: County drug asset forfeiture funds and "hot check" funds. Ann writes:

District attorney discretionary asset forfeiture and hot check funds should be appropriated to punishment options that reduce recidivism most effectively.

District attorneys in Texas have funds stashed away all over the state without clear direction as to how to spend the money. There is no need for this type of unaccountable broad discretion over funding sources by a government entity. These funds should be immediately shifted to improving the system.

Those sources combined could pony up many tens of millions of dollars -- it's one of the few new ideas that's been proposed as legislators scramble to finance drug courts, in-prison drug treament, and improvements to state forensic labs. Texas state Rep. Aaron Pena proposed directing 10% of asset forfeture money to drug treatment in a 2003 bill, but the idea wasn't seriously considered. Now, though, with our overincarceration crisis threatening to break the bank, the 79th Texas Legislature might be willing to look more closely at such options.

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