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Letters Needed This Week, and Other Items

Two Bulletins: Housing Amendments Still Alive, and RAND Mandatory Minimums Study

1) Bad Housing Amendments Still Alive

Two Thursdays ago, May 8, DRCNet distributed an action alert opposing two amendments to S. 462, the Public Housing Reform and Responsibility Act of 1997, sponsored by Sen. Rod Grams:

Grams Amendment #1:
all public housing applicants must turn over all drug and alcohol treatment records.
Grams Amendment #2:
eviction from public housing upon any discovery of any amount of illegal drugs from a legal police search.

We were initially told that the amendments had been defeated, but the information turned out to be premature. At last report, the amendments are in the bill, but the bill is still in committee. Amendment #2 is particularly insidious, as many of the people who would suffer from it are people with AIDS. Many persons with AIDS use marijuana to treat the AIDS Wasting Syndrome and enable themselves to eat, but they will be subject to this provision. Collectively, they will have the effect of exacerbating several social ills, including homelessness, AIDS, tuberculosis, addiction, and crime. Even users in recovery will be harmed by this legislation. Whether or not you support public housing, we hope you will oppose the selective denial of benefits to this particularly persecuted group of people.

It is thought that the Committee will vote on the bill this week. Please call your own Senator, at (202) 224-3121 (Congressional Switchboard), and please call the Committee at (202) 224-7391, and/or send a fax to the Majority Staff at (202) 224-5137 and the Minority Staff at (202) 224-2080, to express your opposition to the Grams amendments to the Housing bill. Please also contact the following Senators directly, especially Senators D'Amato and Grams:

                                        PHONE                   FAX 

*Alfonse D'Amato, Chairman (R-NY)       224-6542                224-5871 

*Rod Grams (R-MN)                       224-3244                228-0956 

Phil Gramm (R-TX)                       224-2934                228-2856 

Richard C. Shelby (R-AL)                224-5744                224-3416 

Connie Mack (R-FL)                      224-5274                224-8022 

Lauch Faircloth (R-NC)                  224-3154                224-7406 

Robert F. Bennett (R-UT)                224-5444                224-4908 

Wayne Allard (R-CO)                     224-5852                224-1933 

Michael B. Enzi (R-WY)                  224-3424 

Chuck Hagel (R-NE)                      224-4224                224-5213 

Paul S. Sarbanes (D-MD)                 224-4524                224-1651

Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT)              224-2823                224-1083 

John F. Kerry (D-MA)                    224-2742                224-8525 

Richard H. Bryan (D-NV)                 224-6244                224-1867 

Barbara Boxer (D-CA)                    224-3553                (415) 956-6701 

Carol Moseley-Braun (D-IL)              224-2854                228-1318 

Tim Johnson (D-SD)                      224-5842                228-0368 

Jack Reed (D-RI)                        224-4642                224-4680 

(All numbers area code 202 except for Sen. Boxer's fax)

Some of the Senators have e-mail addresses, which can be accessed via the committee's web site at <http://www.senate.gov/committee/banking.html>. We don't know how regularly or reliably they check their e-mail, however, so we urge you to use phone or fax for this alert.

More information on the amendments follows, courtesy of Housing Works http://www.housingworks.org:

1. The first Grams Amendment would compel all public housing applicants to authorize their doctors and drug or alcohol treatment programs to release their treatment records. People with a recent history of drug or alcoholism treatment could be blocked from housing by the local public housing authorities. This provision would punish people who have responsibly sought treatment in the past, and deter those who would otherwise seek treatment from getting it.

The amendment would specifically deny public housing applicants the legal confidentiality protections enjoyed by other people with respect to sensitive information that their doctor, hospital, drug or alcohol treatment center or detox program has about them (see Title III, 301 (d)(2)(A)). Ellen Weber of the Legal Action Center reports that the Grams amendment would override federal law and regulations which have, for almost 25 years, prohibited coerced consents for disclosure of alcohol and drug treatment information.

The expense and administrative burdens of such a provision would be overwhelming. Agencies would have to elicit releases from every housing applicant and seek information from an undetermined number of health care providers. Patient records would have to be combed for drug and alcohol treatment information and the material then edited and summarized. Many providers would have to search the records for each applicant. Pending guidance from the Secretary, it is not clear how wide an information net each of the country's 3,400 local housing authorities would have to cast in order to determine an applicant's eligibility. But it seems self-evident that any search comprehensive enough to identify current users would be impossibly expensive.

2. The second Grams Amendment would require that any resident of public housing found by a legal police search to be in possession of any amount of illegal drugs be evicted. Many of these persons are likely to be HIV infected; the majority pose no threat to their neighbors. Existing provisions in the bill are more than adequate to rid public housing of predatory criminals or drug dealers. Access to treatment, NOT eviction and homelessness, is the appropriate response to drug abuse.

2) RAND Study Finds Mandatory Minimums Cost-Ineffective

Excerpt from RAND Press Release:

Washington, DC, May 12 -- If cutting drug consumption and drug-related crime are the nation's prime drug control objectives, then the mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws in force at the federal level and in most states are not the way to get there.

This is the key finding of "Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences: Throwing Away the Key or the Taxpayer's Money?", a new RAND study that provides the first quantitative analysis of how successful these measures are in achieving what Director Barry McCaffrey of the Office of National Drug Control Policy has called "our central purpose and mission - - reducing illicit drug use and its consequences."

Researchers Jonathan P. Caulkins, C. Peter Rydell, William Schwabe and James Chiesa estimate the cost-effectiveness of extended sentences in reducing cocaine consumption and crime, compare the results to those for two other drug control strategies, and show that mandatory minimums produce the smallest bang for the buck by far. Conventional enforcement (meaning more drug dealer arrests, confiscations, prosecutions and standard-length incarcerations) is a substantially better investment. Treatment of heavy drug users produces the biggest bang of all.

This research was supported by a gift from Florida businessman Richard B. Wolf and by funding from The Ford Foundation and was carried out by RAND's Drug Policy Research Center. RAND is a private, not-for-profit organization that helps improve public policy through research and analysis.

# # #

For a copy of the RAND mandatory minimums report, send $18 ($15 + $3 shipping and handling) to RAND, attn: Distribution Services, 1700 Main St., Santa Monica, CA 90407, or call (310) 451-7002 to pay by credit card. A summary is available at http://www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR827/ on the world-wide-web, with an online ordering link at the end.

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