Pubdate: Mon, 23 Jun 2003
Source: Corpus Christi Caller-Times (TX)
Address: P.O. Box 9136, Corpus Christi, TX 78469-9136
Copyright: 2003 Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Author: Carlos Villarreal
Note: Carlos Villarreal is the communications coordinator for the Texas 
Criminal Justice Reform Coalition. He is an attorney and a native of Corpus 


Two area narcotics task forces may lose their money and be forced to stop 
operating. While some have been quick to warn of a flood of drugs through 
South Texas, perhaps the elimination of the narcotics task forces would be 
a positive development. It is unfortunate that some officers may be losing 
their livelihoods, but maybe that money could be better spent.

The task forces have supposedly made 450 arrests in the past three years, 
but I would bet most of these individuals were low-level, non-violent 
offenders. The non-violent offender population in Texas jails and prisons 
is greater than the entire prison population in England and France. Much of 
this is because of the devastating war on drugs that has resulted in the 
arrests and incarceration of many offenders for petty crimes like 
possession of small amounts of a controlled substance. These offenders are 
often people of color and often juveniles or women. By locking up these 
folks, we are taking them away from their families and using resources that 
could be better spent on education and treatment programs.

This year the Texas Legislature has had to deal with an enormous budget 
deficit that is resulting in cuts to numerous programs. My organization, 
along with many others, has tried to make the case for lowering sentences 
and eliminating programs like these narcotics task forces - this money 
could go to programs that are more desperately needed. Moreover, these 
narcotics task forces take up more than just state funds as they often 
require local matching dollars, which might otherwise be used to fund 
positive programs that give young people a reason to stay away from drugs 
and drug trafficking. Since 1986, Texas spending on corrections has grown 
at seven times the rate of spending on higher education, yet we haven't 
enjoyed any significant decreases in crime.

Our priorities must change, and the "tough-on-crime" policies of the '90s 
must be recognized as ill-conceived.

If officials really care about the drug problem in this country or in South 
Texas, they might do better to support drug treatment over law enforcement. 
Studies have shown that offenders who go through drug treatment are much 
less likely to re-offend than those who were denied treatment. In the long 
run, such programs are better for our communities and cost less than the 
money we spend on police, prosecutors and prisons for offenders who return 
again and again.

Indeed, in some cases grant money used for regional narcotics task forces 
can be used for specialized drug courts that would help steer offenders 
into the treatment they need. It's just a matter of applying for the grants 
next year.

Regional narcotics task forces throughout Texas have faced increasing 
scrutiny lately. It was such a task force that was responsible for the 
tragedy in Tulia, where a large segment of the black community was locked 
up for crimes they never committed. With an enormous budget crunch, and 
with spending cuts on programs for children and the poor, it seems almost 
irresponsible to continue funding this piece of the increasingly 
out-of-fashion drug war.

The elimination of the task forces should be seen, not as a crisis, but as 
incredible opportunity. 
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