Revisiting Those Byrne/JAG Cuts

A few months ago, when I first learned that President Bush’s federal domestic spending bill for 2008 included a 67 percent reduction in appropriations (from $520 million to $170 million) for the Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program, which funds local crime control initiatives and drug task forces, I wasn’t sure how to respond.

If these grants are primarily being applied to help police “toughen” up on crime and, say, bolster the victims’ rights lobby, I thought, then cutting them by two-thirds might not be such a terrible idea. On the other hand, if they’re expressly used to support the kind of reform efforts that progressive advocates and public defenders champion–and if increased funding could relieve, or work in tandem with, the nonprofit organizations that have stepped up in the absence of federal leadership–then I’d have a very different opinion on the matter. So, I asked, how will this cut affect efforts at reform?

Yesterday, the fabulous Texas-based and -centric blog Grits for Breakfast offered a plausible answer to my admittedly naive question. “Drug task forces funded by the federal Byrne grant program are a failed experiment,” blogger Scott Henson concludes, “and it’s time to try a different approach.”

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