Pubdate: Fri, 07 Sep 2001
Source: USA Today (US)
Copyright: 2001 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc
Author:  Donna Leinwand


A coalition of civil liberties and public health groups has called for 
close scrutiny of drug czar nominee John Walters when he goes before the 
Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

The Coalition for Compassionate Leadership on Drug Policy criticizes 
Walters for dismissing sentencing disparities among racial groups as 
''urban myths'' and for advocating the use of courts to force drug users 
into treatment programs.

The coalition, which says it does not endorse or oppose nominees, included 
its complaints in a report issued Thursday.

The report heats up an already simmering debate over Walters, a former 
deputy in the first Bush administration's Office on National Drug Control 
Policy (ONDCP).

''Mr. Walters' record isn't generally in sync with the more balanced 
approach that is gaining ground in Congress and with the public,'' said 
David Carle, spokesman for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick 
Leahy, D-Vt.

Leahy and the committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, 
have sponsored a bill that would devote more federal funds to prevention 
and treatment. The coalition, which includes the NAACP and the American 
Civil Liberties Union, supports the type of approach proposed by Leahy and 

''Mr. Walters is a hard-liner amongst hard-liners on the war on drugs,'' 
said coalition member Vincent Schiraldi, president of the Justice Policy 

''He remains a cheerleader for the curative virtues of the prison cell over 
treatment programs,'' he said. ''He's not only out of step with America on 
this one, he's even out of step with other conservatives.''

The Bush administration said it stands behind its nominee.

''The president has a balanced approach to the problem of drug abuse in 
America that emphasizes both treatment and prevention,'' White House 
spokeswoman Anne Womack said. ''We're confident that John Walters will do 
an excellent job of implementing the president's vision.''

A spokesman for Walters said he would have no comment before his hearing.

Walters worked at the drug czar's office from January 1989 until February 
1993 under drug czar William Bennett, first as chief of staff and later as 
deputy director for supply reduction.

In a statement to the Judiciary Committee, Walters emphasized his 
commitment to prevention and treatment during his tenure at the drug czar's 

''In all of my work at the ONDCP, I was a steadfast advocate for a balanced 
anti-drug effort,'' Walters said in the questionnaire. ''If anything, my 
tenure at the office marked a rebalancing of federal resources with greater 
funding direct to prevention and treatment.''

However, coalition members cite an article published in March in The Weekly 
Standard, a conservative magazine, in which Walters wrote: ''What really 
drives the battle against law enforcement and punishment, however is not a 
commitment to treatment, but the widely held view that (1) we are 
imprisoning too many people for merely possessing illegal drugs, (2) drug 
and other criminal sentences are too long and harsh, and (3) the criminal 
justice system is unjustly punishing young black men. These are among the 
great urban myths of our time.''

The coalition disagrees with Walters's remarks.

''Jail is not in the best interest of the American people,'' says coalition 
member Mohammad Akhter of the American Public Health Association. 
''Treatment is.''
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart