12.10.08

Following Vermont Hearing, Leahy Introduces Reauthorization For Anti-Crime Grant Program

Leahy Also Backs Mentoring Resolution Introduced Wednesday

 WASHINGTON– Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) today introduced legislation to reauthorize a critical grant program targeted at reducing crime in rural communities.  The Crime-Free Rural States Reauthorization Act will authorize $40 million over four years for rural states to address crime and drug issues.  Leahy chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held a hearing Dec. 5 in St. Albans, Vermont, to hear from officials and community leaders who are working together to combat crime and drug use in St. Albans.

The Crime-Free Rural States program provides federal grants to help facilitate training and technical assistance for local prevention programs and law enforcement.  The grant program provides needed resources to some of the nation’s most vulnerable, cash-strapped communities to address crime and drug related problems in their neighborhoods.  The grant program was first authorized in 2002, but like several other key criminal justice grant programs, its authorization lapsed during the Bush administration.  The Leahy-authored legislation introduced Wednesday would extend the Crime-Free Rural States grant program through 2012.

“Drug-related crime is not just a big-city issue,” said Leahy.  “As we heard at a hearing in Rutland earlier this year and last week in St. Albans, drugs and related crime are a growing problem in rural communities in Vermont and across the country.  Fortunately, resourceful communities like Rutland and St. Albans are coming together to find innovative, community-based solutions to these complex problems.”

More than 300 community members attended the Dec. 5 hearing on “Community-Based Solutions to Drug-Related Crime in Rural America” in St. Albans.  Earlier this year, Leahy chaired a hearing of the Senate committee in Rutland, where community leaders and have developed and implemented effective programs to address spikes in drug-related violent crime.  In September, the Judiciary Committee heard testimony from witnesses in Washington, D.C., about effective strategies to curb rising crime.

Also on Wednesday, Leahy joined other senators in sponsoring a resolution to designate January 2009 as National Mentoring Month. 

“I have always said that solving crime problems as they arise is essential, but preventing them is even better.  One solution that Vermont’s businesses, schools, college students, and retired people have continued to recognize is that mentoring connects our community to our children.  Research continues to support that building these positive relationships helps keep children off of drugs, in school and off the streets, and out of trouble,” said Leahy.

Leahy is expected to introduce broad criminal justice legislation in the next Congress.

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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy

Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee

On the Introduction of the Crime-Free Rural States Reauthorization Act

December 10, 2008

I am pleased today to introduce the Crime-Free Rural States Reauthorization Act, a bill designed to help rural communities deal with a growing drug and crime problems made worse by the devastating recession we now face.

This week the Senate is focused on passing a bill to authorize billions of dollars to bail out the automobile industry.  Congress has already passed legislation providing for hundreds of billions of dollars to rescue the financial industry.  These are difficult pieces of legislation, but we are trying to protect countless jobs and the economy as a whole.  These efforts have done little, though, to help the millions of people in rural America, who have been hit as hard as anyone by the devastating effects of this recession, but will see few benefits from financial and corporate bailouts.

We must help rural communities, and they especially need our help as they try to pull together to combat the worsening drug and crime problems that threaten the safety and well-being of too many in our small cities and towns and, most particularly, our young people.  The Crime-Free Rural States Reauthorization Act will provide just this kind of help.

I pushed for the original Crime-Free Rural States grant program.  It was first authorized in 2002 and funded in 2003.  Like too many valuable programs to help local law enforcement and crime prevention, it was allowed to lapse under the Bush administration.  The program provides grants for rural states to come up with a plan to help communities confront drug and crime problems and to offer training and assistance for local prevention programs and law enforcement.  This program can help cash-strapped communities with assistance they desperately need.

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee traveled to St. Albans, Vermont, to hear from the people of that resilient community about the persistent problem of drug-related crime in rural America, and about the innovative steps they are taking to combat that problem.   The introduction of this bill is a small first step to apply the lessons learned in that hearing and in previous hearings in Vermont and elsewhere. 

Drug-related crime is not just a big-city issue.  As we heard in St. Albans last week and at a hearing in Rutland earlier this year, drugs and related crime are a growing problem in rural communities in Vermont and across the country.  Fortunately, resourceful communities like St. Albans and Rutland are coming together to find innovative, community-based solutions to these complex problems.  

Of course, law enforcement continues to be an important component in our efforts to combat the scourge of drugs.  There continues to be an urgent need for the Federal Government to support state and local law enforcement.  What more and more cities and towns are finding is that the best solutions involve all segments of the community coming together with law enforcement to find meaningful, community-based approaches.  Solving these problems as they arise is essential, but preventing them is even better, and less expensive.

Unfortunately, for the last eight years, throughout the country, state and local law enforcement agencies have been stretched thin as they shoulder both traditional crime-fighting duties and new homeland security demands.  They have faced continuous cuts in federal funding during the Bush years, and time and time again, our state and local law enforcement officers have been unable to fill vacancies and get the equipment they need. 

This trend is unacceptable.  I intend to work with the new administration to reverse it.  Eric Holder, whom President-Elect Obama has designated to be our next Attorney General, focused on the importance of state and local law enforcement when he was introduced to the nation last Monday.  He was a local U.S. Attorney and understands the critical role of state and local law enforcement, our first responders.  We need to restore the COPS and Byrne grant programs to help support local law enforcement, and I hope we will do a better job when it comes to rural communities and rural states. That is why I am introducing this bill today to bring back the Crime-Free Rural States grant program.

As a former prosecutor, I have always advocated vigorous enforcement and punishment of those who commit serious crimes.  But I also know that punishment alone will not solve the problems of drugs and violence in our communities.  Police chiefs from Vermont and across the country have told me that we cannot arrest our way out of this problem.

Combating drug use and crime requires attention to enforcement, prevention and treatment.  The best way to prevent crime is often to provide young people with opportunities and constructive things to do, so they stay away from drugs and crime altogether.  And if young people do get involved with drugs, treatment in many cases can work to help them to turn their lives around.  Good prevention and treatment programs have been shown again and again to reduce crime, but regrettably, the Bush administration has consistently sought to reduce funding for these important programs.  It is time to move in a new direction.

I will work in the next Congress to advance legislation that will give state and local law enforcement the support it needs, that will help our cities and towns to implement the kinds of innovative and proven community-based solutions needed to reduce crime.  The legislation I introduce today is a modest beginning, addressing the urgent and unmet need to support our rural communities as they struggle to combat drugs and crime.

By funding planning, training, and technical assistance, Crime-Free Rural States grants provide an anchor for our rural communities as they work to address the devastating problems of crime and drugs.  It is a first step for us to help our small cities and towns weather the worsening conditions of these difficult times and begin to move in a better direction.

I hope Senators on both sides of the aisle will join me in supporting this important legislation.

 

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