Sunday, April 03, 2005

Conservative think tanks stepping up on Texas justice system

Earlier this session I said I was surprised the Texas Public Policy Foundation hadn't stepped up to address criminal justice issues as part of their legislative agenda. Well, somebody must have been thinking the same thing, because last month they announced the creation of a new division devoted to criminal justice. According to a March 17 TPPF press release that I didn't see until recently:
The Texas Public Policy Foundation is pleased to announce the creation of the Center for Effective Justice. The Center's initial charge will be to study criminal justice issues in the Lone Star State, and to develop and promote new public policy approaches that work to repair the harm done to victims, reduce recidivism, and minimize the costs to the taxpayer.

The Center will promote these goals by conducting empirically-based research, participating actively in the public policy process at all levels of government, working cooperatively with stakeholders in the criminal justice system, and communicating frequently with the public and media. During this legislative session, the Center will serve as a resource for members of the Legislature and their staffs on criminal justice issues.

TPPF is also pleased to announce the appointment of Marc A. Levin to serve as a Foundation senior fellow and as executive director of the Center. Levin is an Austin attorney and an accomplished author on legal and public policy issues.


Levin has served as a law clerk to Judge Will Garwood on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and Staff Attorney at the Texas Supreme Court. In 1999, he graduated with honors from the University of Texas with a B.A. in Plan II Honors and Government. In 2002, Levin received his J.D. with honors from the University of Texas School of Law.
It'll be interesting to have an actual conservative presence in these debates as opposed to just lock-em-up special interests like the prosecutors' and police unions' lobbyists. In my experience, an actual small-government conservative has a lot in common ideologically with Texas' criminal justice reform movement, so this isn't necessarily bad news: Welcome to the 'hood, Marc!

Meanwhile, this is the first I've heard of the Virginia-based libertarian think tank, Frontiers of Freedom, but I was interested to see their comments
in the El Paso Times regarding Texas' meth bills, in particular those restricting over-the-counter access to medicines containing pseudoephedrine, including the brand name Sudafed. The bills aim to reduce the public's access to so-called "precursors" for meth manufacture, but Frontiers of Freedom thinks that:
"In a well-intentioned but flawed attempt to slow the deadly proliferation of methamphetamine labs, some legislators want to penalize health-care consumers by limiting their access to over-the-counter cold medicines," said Kerri Houston, vice president of policy for Frontiers of Freedom, a think tank in Oakton, Va., that analyzes and makes recommendations on public policies.

The provision that Policy for Frontiers of Freedom objects to would put common cold and allergy medications behind the counter for distribution only through licensed pharmacists.

"Most meth is produced by large criminal gangs who traffic ingredients from Mexico or Canada," Houston said.

"Passing consumer restrictions will have little affect on criminal meth producers already breaking the law. Local labs are predominantly turning to purchasing (pseudoephedrine) over the Internet and under the radar screen of law enforcement."
Personally, I don't mind putting pseudoephedrine pills behind the counter, but think forcing people to go to the pharmacy is taking it too far. Raising penalties for low-level meth crimes, though, especially without providing much-needed drug treatment services, is a recipe for disaster. Glad to hear another voice speaking up on the subject.

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