ATLANTA -- Al Gore's new focus on crime poses this problem: How to take credit for the crime-fighting progress of the past seven years while offering new approaches aimed at problems that are still unresolved.
One solution? Turn the tables and focus on George W. Bush, the Texas governor and presumptive Republican nominee.
''He seems to believe that there is no national responsibility to help fight crime,'' Gore said. '' ... He seems to believe we don't need to stop that revolving door of drug-related crime.''
In his speech Tuesday before a tightly packed room of blue-and brown-uniformed police officers, Gore used the topic of crime once again to criticize Bush's record in Texas and to suggest that his sweeping tax cut plan will jeopardize federal obligations.
''George W. Bush slashed drug treatment programs and alcohol treatment programs for Texas prisoners,'' the vice president charged. ''He even argued that, in his words, 'incarceration is rehabilitation.' That may be why recidivism has jumped by about 25 percent in Texas since he took office to a level far above the national average.''
Gore's spokesman Chris Lehane, citing a report of the Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council, said the national recidivism rate is 33 percent; in Texas, he said, it was 40 percent before Bush took office in 1994, and is now 50 percent. At the same time, Lehane said, the budget submitted by Bush's predecessor, Democrat Ann Richards, sought $380 million for 14,000 drug-treatment slots for state prisoners, and Bush cut that figure to $188 million for 5,300 beds.
Bush's headquarters in Austin disputed the vice president's portrayal of the Texas record. Aides claimed that funding for drug prevention and treatment programs in prisons has actually gone up almost 50 percent. And they said violent juvenile crime has decreased 38 percent in Texas during Bush's tenure.
Gore used his speech Tuesday to present his own prescription for further reducing the rate of violent crime, ticking off a list of proposals largely compiled from Clinton administration's budget proposals and earlier Gore campaign speeches. The proposals include:
-- Keeping inmates in prison -- even after their sentences have ended -- if twice-a-week drug tests show they are still using drugs. Gore would give states $500 million in the first year to accomplish the task.
--Boosting the number of police on American streets by 50,000, beyond the 100,000 already being added by Clinton administration funding. Gore said the plan would ''cover our communities with a blanket of blue.''
--Use sophisticated computer programs to track crime and encourage state and local authorities to allow off-duty officers to carry guns -- as federal law enforcement officers are now permitted to do.
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