The appropriations bill signed by President Barack Obama last week will get some long-delayed Justice Department anticrime projects off the ground, while others will suffer big hits as federal money becomes harder to obtain.
The measure provides $13 million for cleaning up toxic waste from methamphetamine labs, a fund that was wiped out last year to the dismay of state and local law enforcement, and $10 million for grants in a project championed by Attorney General Eric Holder to assist children exposed to violence.
Among new programs sought by the Obama administration but not funded until now are a $ 4 million Justice Department “help desk” to aid states and localities in implementing evidence-based anticrime projects, and a $4 million “smart probation” program to promote better ways of preventing recidivism among the millions on probation around the nation.
The probation funds are part of the Second Chance Act, which generally aids prisoner re-entry work. The Justice Department also gets $4 million to research “domestic radicalization.”
While the Justice Department was pleased finally to get a Congressional OK for some key projects, others got less than the Obama Administration was hoping for. Example: the Justice Department wanted a $57 million pot for drug, mental-health, and other problem-solving courts. Congress provided just $44 million.
The Administration struck out on funding requests for an evidence-based policing and an “ensuring fairness and justice” program.
Local community-police hiring under the COPS program, now getting $247 million a year, was trimmed to $166 million despite an administration request for $600 million. Republicans remain wary of the police hiring fund started by President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. COPS was fortunate to survive. The Republican-dominated House voted to eliminate it. Senate appropriators retaliated by voting to zero out Second Chance funding. In a backroom deal, both programs were saved but at lower amounts than the Obama administration had hoped for.
Much of the cutting was necessitated by Congress’ approval of a State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) that has helped states pay the cost of incarcerating illegal immigrants. It got $274 million last year; Obama wanted to cut it to $136 million, but Congress provided $240 million, forcing other proposals to be trimmed.
One Justice Department agency that will take a particularly big hit is the Bureau of Justice Statistics, dropping from $60 million to $45 million. Much of the $45 million is consumed by the National Crime Victimization survey, meaning that other longstanding statistical series could be curtailed.
The National Criminal Justice Association, which represents states and localities in Washington, noted that other programs “took dramatic cuts” in the new law, including a border prosecutors’ initiative (65 percent), the Paul Coverdell forensic science program (59 percent) and the National Criminal Background Check System (71 percent).
A national criminal history improvements program was slashed from $10 million to $6 million. Ron Hawley of SEARCH, a national organization of justice information management specialists, said it “is extremely troubling” that Congress trimmed “a proven program directly targeted at increasing the record quality and completeness of our states' programs.”
Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson, who heads the department’s Office of Justice Programs, told The Crime Report, “It was clearly a tough budget year, but I’m happy the appropriators recognized–and supported–many of our evidence-based programs. With the challenges states and localities are facing with limited resources, ‘smart on crime’ approaches are a crucial way the federal government can help.”
Ted Gest is President of Criminal Justice Journalists and contributing editor of The Crime Report. He welcomes comments from readers.