Thursday, August 20, 2009

Schwarzenegger should follow Perry's lead on drug task force system

Counterintuitively, given that the state is in the midst of its worst fiscal crisis in decades, the California Emergency Management Agency yesterday approved (pdf) expanded funding for multi-jurisdictional drug task forces using new federal stimulus money, but judging from Texas' experience that's a bad decision.

Long-time readers know that Governor Rick Perry eliminated Texas' drug task forces after a series of high-profile scandals, including the one in Tulia and also in Hearne (the story of which this year was made into a major motion picture). For a while they were placed under the auspices of the Texas Department of Public Safety, but most of them refused to comply with DPS rules and shut their task forces down - the rest then lost their funding.

According to their annual reporting to the Justice Department, at their height Texas' task forces generated about 12-14,000 arrests per year, most of them for less than 4 grams of a controlled substance. In other words, they only went after the small-timers, seldom working their way up the supply chain to go after Mr. Big (or perhaps that's SeƱor Grande). Similarly, in California, the LA Times reported in an article previewing the decision that:
The Drug Policy Alliance estimates that the increase could yield 13,000 arrests during the coming year, resulting in prison time for nearly a quarter of those apprehended, at a cost of $160 million.

Funding for drug treatment programs was slashed roughly in half from $120 million two years ago.
Ironically, the DOJ Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) funds being used to expand low-level drug arrests are also eligible to be used for supplementing drug-treatment services in the justice system. So Schwarzenneger's skewed priorities will further fill the system with petty offenders in an era when CA prisons, by his own estimation, are "collapsing under their own weight."

Texas eliminated our drug task forces amidst many howls and wails that crime would skyrocket as a result, but instead it's continued to go down. Califoria's drug task forces operate on the same model as in Texas, and there's just no reason to believe they'd experience a different result.

Today some of that DOJ JAG money goes to fund border security grants, but much of the rest has gone to treatment programs and drug courts, which Governor Perry has supported, if reluctantly at first since he first became Governor. "Since 2001, Texas has increased its number of drug courts from 7 to 74," according to the Governor's website. "There are now drug courts in 42 counties around the state."

Though in some instances local jurisdictions picked up the slack, I've always believed that the reduction in low-level drug arrests that resulted from eliminating Texas' drug task forces contributed in significant part to relieving population pressure in our then-overheated prison system. Certainly it's one of several trends that combined during the period to help get our prison population under some semblance of control.

It's too bad California, in its dysfunction, can't seem to get its priorities straight, even in a crisis. They missed an opportunity to help themselves with this decision.

1 comment:

I'm me said...

California bill would free more than 27,000 inmates

(CNN) -- A controversial bill that California legislators say would allow the early release of more than 27,000 inmates from crowded prisons will be taken up by the state Assembly on Monday.

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