For the second consecutive year, Congress is moving toward sharply increasing federal spending on programs that aid crime victims. The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved $2.6 billion for the federal crime victims fund for the year starting October 1. The House of Representatives this month approved an even-higher figure of about $2.7 billion. The final number will be determined by a Senate-House conference committee.
Congress last year lifted a longstanding cap on spending for crime victims, providing $2.36 billion and prompting a flurry of activity by crime victim advocates to discuss how the money should be spent, discussions described recently in The Crime Report. Much assistance for victims comes from a fund of fines paid in federal criminal cases, including large amounts paid in some white collar-crime cases.
The crime victim aid total is so high that some advocates worry that some of it will end up being used for other anticrime programs that will not directly help victims.
Differing from their House colleagues, Senators yesterday voted to spend $187 million for local police hiring under the U.S. Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Program (COPS). The House wants to eliminate police hiring aid, although it would provide a small amount for a program aimed at improving public trust in police after nationwide controversy over police shootings and other deaths of people in law enforcement custody.
Senate appropriators also would maintain the Justice Department’s research and statistics agencies, the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, at their current budget levels. The House voted to eliminate specific appropriations for both agencies and have DOJ take money to operate them out of crime-fighting grants for state and local governments, a development detailed in The Crime Report last month.
Senators agreed with their House counterparts and voted to provide about $6.9 billion to run the federal prison system, less than the amount sought by the Obama administration. Depending on how the final numbers come out, prisons consume more than a quarter of the entire DOJ budget. The Senate budget would include $32 million to add an additional correctional officer for each housing unit in high security prisons “to address unsafe environments for correctional officers and other BOP staff.”
The FBI is assured of getting about $8.5 billion, a figure approved on both sides of the Capitol. The Senate included a $10.3 million increase for a “Next Generation Cyber Initiative” to neutralize, mitigate, and disrupt illegal computer-supported operations domestically.
Senators would spend $2.3 billion on state and local law enforcement and crime prevention grant programs. Included is grant funding for state and local law enforcement efforts, the Office on Violence Against Women, and juvenile justice programs. The bill approved by the committee yesterday would provide $382 million for Byrne Justice Assistance Grants (JAG), about $166 million for initiatives that will address Rape Kit and other DNA evidence backlogs, and $41 million for drug courts.
The Senate bill would continue a lower level of support for state and local juvenile justice programs than Washington spent in previous years. Congress has cut federal juvenile justice funding by more than half since fiscal year 2002, from about $547 million to only $251.5 million in the current year, says the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, which is holding its annual meeting this week in Washington, D.C. The Senate bill approved yesterday could end up cutting some juvenile programs even further if it is enacted into law.
The final numbers for all DOJ accounts won’t be determined until the full Senate passes the appropriations bill and House and Senate appropriators settle the differences.
The outcome is murkier than usual because the cast of characters has changed. For several years, DOJ appropriations were overseen by committees headed by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA). Wolf has retired, and Republicans have taken over the Senate, meaning that the panels now are headed by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Rep. John Culberson (R-TX.)