Tuesday, September 21 1999
AUSTIN - Governor George W. Bush today announced a grant to Texas Attorney General John Cornyn for $1.6 million to kick off Texas Exile. From this grant, $1.28 million will fund eight prosecutors to crack down on criminals who use guns, and $360,000 will fund a public awareness campaign.
"The best way to protect our citizens is to vigorously enforce the tough laws we have on the books. This program gives law enforcement the opportunity to combat gun violence by enforcing the toughest laws on the books-whether federal or state," said Governor George W. Bush.
"Texas Exile sends a clear message to convicted felons and drug dealers. If you carry a weapon in Texas, you'll do hard time in federal prison," said Attorney General John Cornyn. "I want to thank Governor Bush, federal and state prosecutors and local law enforcement for their participation in this important effort," added Cornyn.
Texas Exile is based upon Project Exile, a program first developed in Richmond, Virginia to reduce gun crime. In 1997, Richmond had the second highest murder rate in the nation. To make their streets safe again, law enforcement began an intense effort to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
When local law enforcement caught a criminal using a weapon while committing a crime, they would refer the criminal to specialized prosecutors. These prosecutors used a federal gun statute to seek the longest possible sentence for these criminals. The effect was not only keeping criminals off the street, but also keeping them in jail longer.
By taking advantage of these same stiff federal sentencing guidelines, any convicted felon or drug trafficker caught with a gun will be sentenced to five years in federal prison. These sentences increase if the felon was involved in any criminal activity when arrested. Habitual violent offenders are essentially exiled from city streets, and potential offenders are discouraged by the threat of harsh prison terms.
Since the beginning of the program in Richmond, over 300 criminals have been convicted and removed from the streets. The murder rate has dropped by 33 percent and the rate of violent crime has decreased by almost 50 percent.
All four Assistant U.S. Attorneys in Texas are participating along with several urban District Attorneys to create a successful Texas Exile based upon the Richmond model.
Texas Exile also has another component--a public awareness campaign targeted at criminals. The Attorney General plans to take the slogan "Gun Crime Means Hard Time" to the streets through billboards, posters on public transit and newspaper ads. This slogan was developed by the City of Fort Worth which is on the forefront of this initiative. The public awareness campaign tells criminals that if they commit a crime with a gun, they will serve at least five years in jail. The public awareness campaign will also have a toll-free hotline for tips on illegal guns.
The two-year Texas Exile grant comes from the Governor's Criminal Justice Division. Texas Exile will be evaluated after two years, and if successful, a request may be made to the legislature to fund the program in the future. The public awareness campaign grant is for one year, and if successful, future efforts may be made to secure funding through the private sector.
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