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Gore Steers to the Center With Anti-Crime Proposals

Politics: Vice president will unveil plan to meld law enforcement, drug and gang programs and victims' rights. Program would cost $1.3 billion a year.


WASHINGTON — Moving to delineate differences with George W. Bush while setting himself apart from "the old Democratic approach," Al Gore plans to outline an anti-crime program today that melds stepped up law enforcement, drug and gang programs and victims' rights measures.

The vice president will propose a federal program that would spend $500 million a year--with the states matching the money--to fight the use of drugs in state and local prisons. It would expand drug-rehabilitation programs within the institutions, keep prisoners behind bars if they are still using drugs when their sentences end, and return to prison parolees who fail periodic drug tests.

This "stay-out, stay-clean" form of enforced abstinence was presented as the centerpiece of Gore's program by a Clinton administration official familiar with the vice president's plans.

Gore, in a speech at a YMCA in Atlanta, will also call for federal funding to put an additional 50,000 police officers on American streets, continuing a program already favored by the administration.

In excerpts of his text provided to The Times, Gore pledges to "intensify the battle against crime, drugs and disorder in our communities."

He says he would launch "a sweeping anti-crime strategy" that would neither "surrender to the right-wing Republicans who threaten funding for new police and tried to gut crime prevention," nor return "to the old Democratic approach, which was tough on the causes of crime but not tough enough on crime itself."

"I will reform a justice system that spills half a million prisoners onto our streets each year, many of them addicted to drugs, unrehabilitated and just waiting to commit another crime," he says. "I will put the rights of victims and families first again and I will push for more crime prevention to stop the next generation of crime before it's too late.

"I believe we should make prisoners a simple deal: Before you get out of jail, you have to get clean, and if you want to stay out, then you'd better stay clean," he says.

The effort to restrict drug use in prisons and among parolees represents both the greatest departure from current policy and a new campaign directed at the heart of the nation's drug problem. According to an administration official familiar with Gore's plan, 50% of the users of heroin and cocaine in the United States are within the jurisdiction of its justice system, either as prisoners or parolees.

Other than the prison drug policy, Gore's speech covers issues that largely have been suggested by the administration before. Overall, Gore would spend approximately $1.3 billion on the anti-crime programs, a modest increase over current spending. The administration sought that same amount for anti-crime programs last year and was granted slightly less than $1 billion by Congress.

Among other elements in the program, Gore, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, will seek renewal of an expired 1994 program that locked in funding for programs combating violent crime and would provide federal assistance for the establishment of gang-free zones. These would be created under federal court injunctions banning the wearing of gang-related clothing in specific areas and imposing curfews on gang members there.

Overall, even as the crime rate continues to drop, the Gore measures would push the federal government further into an area that has traditionally belonged to state and local authorities.

"Al Gore believes that in an era where gangs and crime have no boundaries, the local sheriff shouldn't have to fight the battle alone, and the federal government has a responsibility to give state and local law enforcement more tools," said an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The vice president will also offer support for a constitutional amendment that would give crime victims greater rights within the criminal justice system.

In his speech, Gore outlines philosophical differences with Bush on crime-control measures, chastising Bush for what he says is an approach that would lessen the federal role and, in the words of an administration official, keep "the revolving door of drugs and crime going by failing to make sure that criminals first get clean before they get out of jail."

Responding to Gore's plan, the Republican campaign argued that Bush, as governor of Texas, has shown innovations in fighting drug use in prisons, while the number of beds in federal prisons available for drug treatment has dropped by one-third during the Clinton administration.

"The vice president's newfound enthusiasm as being a crime fighter underscores why he has a problem with credibility," said Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett. "His record on crime doesn't match his rhetoric."

He pointed out that the vice president is making the speech--on his schedule for several days--at a time when a CNN poll found "the American people favor Bush by 20% on the issue of who would best handle the issue of crime."

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