The impact on criminal justice spending of a Congressional budget deal that may avert another federal government shutdown is not yet clear, but more spending cuts may be ahead. Under the deal announced yesterday, which still must be approved by the full Congress, federal spending overall would be $45 billion higher in the current fiscal year than it otherwise would have been. The higher spending would replace many cuts that had been planned under the budget “sequestration” process, both in defense and non-defense areas like criminal justice. Sequestration would continue overall under the deal. There were two justice provisions in the budget bill, one requiring the identification of inmates requesting or receiving improper payments, and another cancelling unobligated balances in the Justice Department’s assets forfeiture fund.
The specific effect of the deal on criminal justice and other federal spending areas will not be known until Congress approves appropriations for each agency. In the Justice Department, which along with the Department of Homeland Security accounts for most federal criminal justice spending, anticrime grants for states and localities must compete with large units like the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Prisons. Federal prison population and spending have been rising in recent years, although some key members of Congress have made proposals to stem that growth, arguing that the funds could be better spent on other programs.