Crime victims and the FBI were two of the big winners in the annual battle over spending U. S. Justice Department funds.
A Congressional budget deal for the current fiscal year that was finalized by negotiators early yesterday morning provided an estimated $2.26 billion for state and local organizations that help crime victims. Under a law dating from the 1980s, those groups are supposed to receive fines paid in federal cases, but Congress has long put a cap on the total.
The total amounts to an increase of about 15.5 percent over the current level of support, which itself was a big increase over recent years, says the National Association of VOCA Assistance Administrators, which tracks the spending.
The future of funding for victims is not certain. Major fines and settlements in white-collar-crime cases have raised the fund's total to $12 billion, but executive and legislative branch leaders have insisted that some of that money go to other government functions, over the objection of victim advocates.
The overall budget bill still must be passed by both houses and signed by President Barack Obama, but the allocations for criminal justice are unlikely to change.
In the FBI's case, the bureau got just about exactly what it wanted, about $8.5 billion, the largest chunk of any Justice Department sub-agency. In its budget request, the FBI stressed that it needs more funds to battle the terrorist threat, including what it called “homegrown violent extremists.”
The FBI also is stressing investigations of cybersecurity and white collar crime, including the categories of public corruption, border corruption, corporate fraud, securities fraud, mortgage fraud and health care fraud.
DOJ's other major sub-agency is the Bureau of Prisons, which is getting a bit less from Congress this year, $6.92 billion compared with about $6.95 billion last year. Congress rejected a request from the Obama administration to raise the total to $7.3 billion.
Critics charge that the prisons agency is taking too big a chunk of the Justice Department's budget. A Charles Colson Task Force initiated by Congress soon will propose changes aimed at reducing the federal prison population, which already has been dropping slightly after a historic high, as does legislation pending in both the Senate and House to trim mandatory minimum sentences in drug cases.
Despite tight fiscal times in Washington, Justice Department aid to state and local criminal justice programs actually got an increase in the new federal budget, to $1.408 billion from $1.241 billion last year.
In a separate category are funds for juvenile justice improvements at the state and local level. That funding has taken a big hit in recent years as legislators have sought places to reduce DOJ spending, but this year's total of a little over $271 million is higher than last year's $251.5 million.
The Community Oriented Policing Services Program (COPS), which started in the administration of President Bill Clinton, never has been popular among Republican leaders, but the agency held its own this year, getting $212 million in yesterday's budget agreement, including $187 million for hiring local police officers.
The Justice Department's research and statistics agencies also survived in the Capitol Hill budget agreement.
Earlier this year, House members who oversee DOJ appropriations had proposed eliminating the long standing line item budgets for the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). That move was criticized by criminologists as a threat to federally-supported research of criminal justice issues, as The Crime Report said in May.
BJS ended up with $41 million and NIJ with $36 million. Both are the same as the agencies received last year, and are small by the standards of federal agencies, but the alternative of having the Attorney General find DOJ money from other places to support statistics and research might have meant cuts to important initiatives.
The new budget also continues a recent practice of setting aside an additional two percent of federal anticrime grant funds for research and statistics.
“With criminal justice and law enforcement matters increasingly in the news, these investments in objective, independent research for program evaluation are more important than ever to ensure government funding and policies are being prioritized on programs that are proven to work and strengthen public safety, ” Nancy La Vigne, chair of Crime and Justice Research Alliance, a which represents two major organizations of criminologists.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report. He welcomes readers’ comments.