House Republicans overseeing U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) spending want to create a “Community Trust Initiative” to help improve police-community relations, while they are proposing to slash programs to help states on juvenile justice.
The Appropriations Subcommittee’s proposal for the year starting October 1, made public yesterday, would increase overall DOJ funds to $27.5 billion, an increase of $852 million above the current level.
The policing plan is a response to issues raised by controversial police shootings around the nation in the last year. As the subcommittee described its $50 million plan, it would include $15 million for “body camera pilots and research,” $30 million for “justice reform and collaboration efforts,” and $5 million for “improved statistics collection.”
The sums are relatively low by Washington standards, but the proposal signals that GOP leaders want at least to make a modest investment in police reform. The DOJ already has announced a $20 million body camera program for localities with existing funds.
Former Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson, co-chair of President Barack Obama’s task force on 21st century policing, called the House proposal “an encouraging start to support the work on bridging police-community relationships.”
The juvenile justice cuts may be more controversial. Congress has been steadily reducing federal aid to states for improvement of juvenile justice systems in recent years, raising concern that some states may opt out of the federal aid program entirely and avoid complying with a landmark 1974 juvenile delinquency law that imposes conditions on states to qualify for federal aid. In releasing the proposal, House Republicans did not explain their rationale for cutting the juvenile justice aid.
After the subcommittee proposal was announced, the Coalition for Juvenile Justice called on its members to lobby for restoration of the funds, saying the Republicans would provide “No federal dollars for prevention programs! No resources for evidence-based interventions for at-risk youth! No core protections for kids in the system!”
U.S. senators don’t often criticize positions of House members from their own party but Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) issued a statement last night saying, “Juvenile justice intervention programs are important tools to help local communities serve and protect at-risk youth who come into contact with the criminal justice system. It's discouraging to see that funding for these important programs is not included in the House Appropriations subcommittee's markup proposal.”
Grassley noted that he and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) recently introduced a bill to reauthorize the 1974 federal law. Grassley said, “My colleagues in the House should recognize the need to adequately equip our communities with tools to respond to youth who have brushes with the law. These are kids who need help, and it's unreasonable to leave these programs out of the picture altogether.”
Among other DOJ provisions in the House proposal, the FBI would get an increase of $111 million to a total of $8.6 billion; the Drug Enforcement Administration would receive a $45 million boost to $2.4 billion; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives got a $49 million increase to $1.25 billion.
Anticrime grant programs would get $334 million less next year in its total of about $2 billion, but the Republican subcommittee would give Violence Against Women Act programs a $44 million increase and Byrne Justice Assistance Grants $33 million more than this year. The panel would devote $220 million to the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which the White House proposed to eliminate.
Today, the subcommittee meets to vote on the spending plan, which still must go through the entire appropriations process. That means DOJ, along with other federal agencies may not know before the fiscal year begins in October how much money it will actually have to spend.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report. He welcomes your comments.