Criminal justice advocates are anxiously awaiting passage of the economic stimulus bill now quickly making its way through Congress. The reason? It could include up to $4 billion for justice system improvement projects. This would be a huge turnaround from December 2007, when Congress without warning deeply slashed the popular Byrne JAG program, which provides aid to states and localities, to a mere $170 million annually from $520 million–a sum that had itself been cut from previous years.
Republicans could still force cuts in the new bill, but the likelihood is that police and other justice system agencies could get a quick infusion of funds. At least one version of the bill could require spending plans within 60 days.
Are states ready to spend this money? Yes, they say. Maine, for example, would use funds to prevent the layoff of 7 agents on its statewide antidrug task force. The state also would fill vacant positions to prosecutor drug and domestic-violence cases, among other things. North Carolina would use money to continue drug treatment courts that would otherwise have to close because of a state funding shortage. It could also use aid to expand the number of delinquency prevention programs, including alternative schools for suspended and expelled students.
On the policing side, both the House and the Senate Appropriations Committee favor spending $1 billion on hiring police officers, roughly 13,000 nationwide.
The National Criminal Justice Association, which represents states and localities in Washington, says that three-fourths of the stimulus money could be used for personnel, which is one of the bill’s main purposes. Now the question is how much will be available and when.