Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Arkansas task forces may shut down

As Byrne-grant funded drug task forces in Texas this week sell off their assets and close up shop (funding for most of them officially runs out Friday), federal budget cuts may cause 19 drug task forces in Arkansas to shut down, the Texarkana Gazette reported ("Federal budget cuts to cause drug task forces to 'hit the wall,'" March 27).

The federal budget cuts will “gut” the task forces.

[18th Judicial District Prosecutor Tim Williamson] said the federal funding in Arkansas two years ago was $5.2 million. Last year, with the federal cuts, the Arkansas share was reduced to $2.8 million which required 60 percent state match and local governments making up the balance.

Williamson said beginning July 1, Arkansas will have only $1.5 million in federal money for drug task forces to fund 19 drug task forces.

“The results will be closing task forces and shutting down the operations unless other funding is located. It doesn’t appear any money will be available on the federal level,” said Williamson.

“The drug task forces are so significant to rural law enforcement including Miller County. Tallying the numbers in the last couple of years, more than 70 percent of the drug cases sent to the crime lab for testing involved meth and was worked by the drug task forces,” he said.
The March 24 issue of the Texas Observer (not yet online) quotes a representative of the National Narcotics Officers Association hoping the closure of Texas' task forces wouldn't cause a "domino effect," but that appears to have been wishful thinking. Similar budget cuts impacted all 50 states, so I'm sure Arkansas won't be the last place we hear is re-evaluating priorities for spending federal block grant money. The prosecutor quoted in the Texarkana Gazette didn't seem to think the old strategy was working that well, anyway:
“Just sending people on meth to prison is a dismal failure. The recidivism rate is so high,” said Williamson.

He said the long-term commitment treatment program doesn’t exist. The 28-day programs are usually full.

“They’re good for drying people out, but without a long-term commitment program, they revert back to their addiction. The drug court in the last two and a half years is one of the most effective in handling the problem I’ve seen in my 20 years as a prosecutor,” said Williamson.

The drug courts, he said, “help to give the hammer to make people comply with the law.”
That's similar to our experience in Texas. Drug courts work better than prison at reducing addiction and crime. With luck and perhaps a little prodding, Arkansas could soon follow Texas' lead and get rid of their task forces, perhaps shifting scarce funds to pay for treatment, drug courts, and other priorities instead of continuing to finance failed strategies.

See prior Grits
coverage of drug task forces.

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