Tony Newman at (212) 613-8026 or Elizabeth M
On Tuesday, April 5th the Public Safety, Sentencing and Incarceration Reform Congressional Caucus is sponsoring a Congressional briefing on the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program. The Byrne grant program is increasingly under fire across the political spectrum for wasting taxpayer money and perpetuating racial disparities, police corruption, and civil rights abuses. In the highest profile Byrne-related scandal dozens of African-Americans from Tulia were falsely imprisoned for years because of the uncorroborated testimony of one white Texas police officer. This week, the Texas House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence has voted to abolish all of Texas’s Byrne-funded regional narcotics task forces.
Now, President Bush is proposing the complete elimination of the Byrne grant program and some groups – both conservative and liberal – support his plan. Other groups, however, say elimination goes too far because the program has had some benefits. The panel discussion next week, entitled “The Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program: Reform or Eliminate?,” will include representatives from a wide array of groups who, for various reasons, seek reform, including the ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance Network, Heritage Foundation, Open Society Policy Center, and the National Taxpayers Union.
Short of eliminating the program outright, reforms being suggested include: prohibiting Byrne money from going to regional anti-drug task forces, which are the source of most of the program’s problems; requiring law enforcement agencies receiving federal funding to enforce a ban on racial profiling and document their traffic stops, arrests, and searches by race, ethnicity, and gender; and mandating that federal funding can only be used for anti-drug activity in states that have laws prohibiting people from being convicted of drug offenses based solely on the word of another individual without any collaborating evidence.
WHAT: Luncheon Panel Discussion on
the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program
WHEN: Tuesday, April 5th, 12:45 to 2:00
WHERE: 2226 Rayburn House Office Building
WHO: Speakers from ACLU, Drug Policy Alliance
Network, Heritage Foundation, Nation Taxpayers
Union, and the Open Society Policy Center
The Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program provides hundreds of millions of dollars a year to local and state crime prevention initiatives. In recent years the program has come under scrutiny for its role in perpetuating racial disparities, police corruption, and civil rights abuses. This is especially true when it comes to the program’s funding of hundreds of regional anti-drug task forces across the country. These task forces, which lack oversight and are prone to corruption, are at the center of some of our country’s most horrific law enforcement scandals. The program has also been criticized for wasting taxpayer money and failing to reduce crime.
The most notorious Bryne-funded scandal occurred in Tulia, Texas where dozens of African American residents (representing 16 percent of the town’s black population) were arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to decades in prison, even though the only evidence against them was the uncorroborated testimony of one white undercover officer with a history of lying and racism. The undercover officer worked alone, and had no audiotapes, video surveillance, or eyewitnesses to collaborate his allegations. Suspicions eventually arose after two of the defendants accused were able to produce firm evidence showing they were out of state or at work at the time of the alleged drug buys. Texas Governor Rick Perry eventually pardoned the Tulia defendants (after four years of imprisonment), but these kinds of scandals continue to plague the Byrne grant program.
Key Points of Interest: