Sunday, September 22, 2002

Quick! Donate some money so I can go buy some booze! I just can't take this stuff anymore.

Criminal justice experts say they have become increasingly concerned that the Justice Department under Attorney General John Ashcroft is moving to exert political control over previously independent agencies within the department that collect crime statistics and grant crime research awards.

At stake, they say, is the integrity of statistics about whether crime is increasing or decreasing and the findings of scholars about what causes crime and how to reduce it.

The experts' worries center on several little-publicized developments involving the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the statistical arm of the Justice Department, and the National Institute of Justice, its research arm.

A Justice Department official said that despite the changes, the statistical reports maintained "the highest levels of integrity" and that there had been no political interference.

The agencies, created by Congress, have long been independent of the attorney general and had been allowed to release reports or make research grants without clearance by the attorney general's office, former directors of these offices said.

But a number of employees in those agencies as well as former officials and leading scholars said in interviews that over the last year and with increasing speed recently, political appointees under Mr. Ashcroft have worked to undermine that independence.