ACLU Urges Congress to Reform Department of Justice Grant Program

June 18, 2008 12:00 am

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Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program is at center of nation’s most horrific law enforcement scandals, perpetuating police corruption and civil rights abuses

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WASHINGTON, DC – The American Civil Liberties Union calls on Congress to reform a Department of Justice grant program as part of today’s markup of HR 3546, reauthorizing the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant. This program funds hundreds of regional anti-drug task forces that perpetuate racial disparities, police corruption, over-incarceration and civil rights abuses in large and small towns across America.

“Byrne-funded law enforcement scandals have captured headlines from Texas to Wisconsin,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “With little state or federal oversight, many of the regional anti-drug task forces funded by this program are at the center of our country’s most horrific police corruption cases. The most famous scandal involved dozens of African-American residents – representing nearly half of the adult black population in Tulia, Texas – who were arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to decades in prison. The only evidence against them was the uncorroborated testimony of one white undercover officer with a history of lying and racism. Thanks in part to the work of the ACLU of Texas, Governor Rick Perry pardoned the Tulia defendants after four years of imprisonment.”

Fredrickson added, “Congress should say never again: no reform, then no reauthorization. Reform must be part of reauthorizing the Byrne Justice Grant program. Reform means requiring Byrne-funded programs to ban racial profiling and document their traffic stops, arrests, and searches by race, ethnicity and gender. To reduce corruption, federal grant funding should only be used for anti-drug activity if a state adopts legislation preventing people from being convicted of drug offenses based on the word of another individual without any corroborating evidence. And to protect civil rights, funding should be conditioned on the establishment of statewide indigent defense systems.”

The ACLU and coalition partner letter to the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and ranking member of the committee can be found at:

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