U.S. Justice Programs Spared Deep Cuts


Federal aid for state and local anticrime programs appears to have averted draconian budget cuts for this year in Washington’s complex maneuvering over federal spending.

Under the”continuing resolution” bill that cleared Congress yesterday to keep the government running through September, annual funding for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program actually increased from $352 million to $371 million, says the National Criminal Justice Association, which tracks justice appropriations bills.

Other justice accounts had nominal increases under the bill, such as COPS hiring, from $166 to $190 million; juvenile justice programs, from $263 to $280 million; and Violence Against Women grants, from $413 million to $417 million.

The Democratic-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee said that its bill, which was eventually adopted, “provides $15 million more than the House [Continuing Resolution] for Byrne grants, the main Federal tool to help state and local law enforcement.”

The Senate panel said it voted for $20 million more than the House “to put nearly 1,500 new police on the beat.”

The increases in the bill are misleading, and will not take effect, because of the so-called sequester–the forced across-the-board budget cuts that began this month when Congress couldn’t agree on a detailed spending-cut plan for the government. The sequester will trim 5 percent from the totals in the new bill. In addition, cabinet members have the authority to rearrange their own budgets by another 5 percent.

Attorney General Eric Holder has said he will cut crime-fighting grants if the choice ends up being between that and furloughing employees at large agencies like the FBI and Bureau of Prisons. In recent speeches, Holder has estimated the potential cuts in grants at a total of $100 million.

The Justice Department has not given a breakdown of where precisely that money would come from, but anticrime grants have been seen as easier trims than cutting the federal payroll.

The bottom line is that many federally supported anticrime projects still are likely to face cuts, but they could have been much worse if the bill passed by Congress this week hadn’t provided a funding cushion for many programs.

It’s not clear why criminal-justice programs were spared deeper cuts than they could have suffered.

The new Senate Appropriations chairman, Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who also chairs the panel that oversees the Justice Department budget, as well as her House counterpart, Rep. Frank. Wolf (R-VA), are supporters of many police and corrections programs.

Also, the criminal justice association led a national effort to remind congressional appropriators that justice assistance grant programs already have been cut 43 percent, or a total of $1.5 billion, since fiscal year 2010.

Letters signed by leaders of criminal justice agencies and programs were sent to Capitol Hill earlier this year pleading to save criminal justice programs from severe new reductions.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington DC Bureau Chief of The Crime Report. He welcomes comments from readers.

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