First Step Act Funding Hiked to $409M in Trump Budget Plan

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Department of Justice

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The Trump administration is seeking a big budget increase for implementation of the First Step Act to improve federal prison practices.

According to a summary of “criminal justice reform” measures in the budget sent to Congress on Monday for the year starting Oct. 1, the administration will seek $409 million for First Step, a large increase over the $319 million provided this year.

Included in what the White House called “major new investments” are expansion of residential reentry centers, “medication-assisted treatment” that combines behavioral therapy and medication to treat inmates with opioid use disorder, “evidence-based recidivism reduction programs” and additional staff for First Step work.

Overall, the White House’s $31.7 billion budget plan for the Justice Department includes these major items:

      • $942.2 million to fight violent crime, including supporting communities to prevent crime.
      • $638.8 million to counter incidents of mass violence. DOJ says it “will utilize a broad spectrum of response, combined with proactive efforts in identification and interdiction of specific threats in order to reduce the risk of mass violence across the United States.”
      • $379.6 million to fight the opioid crisis, including a fight against transnational criminal organizations that are supplying illicit substances to the U.S.
      • $122.8 million to address national security and cyber threats.
      • $4.3 billion for federal grants to state, local, and tribal law enforcement and victims of crime.

The budget proposes funding cuts to many justice assistance grant programs, some substantially, says the National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA), which represents states and localities on anticrime issues.

Funding for grants administered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance would be cut by 20 percent, as would funding for Victims of Crime Act programs.

The proposal eliminates $100 million that was expected to be made available to reimburse local law enforcement agencies for the cost of providing security for the two presidential nominating conventions in Charlotte, N.C. and Milwaukee this summer.

Congressional appropriators usually take that money from so-called Byrne JAG program that provides funds for states and localities and will likely do so again this year, NCJA says.

Funds for DOJ’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)  would be decreased by almost one-third. The COPS Office would be merged into the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) and the COPS Hiring program would be cut by two-thirds.

The budget proposes almost level funding for Office of Violence Against Women programs.

Grants under the Second Chance Act for prisoner reentry would increase to $77 million from $62 million in FY20.

DNA analysis grants would be cut to $97 million from $132 million in FY20.

The Project Safe Neighborhoods program, which has been championed by the Trump administration, would increase substantially to $40 million from $20 million this year.

Victims of Crime Act funding would be reduced by about 20 percent. The budget proposes to reform the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) by establishing a $2.3 billion mandatory annual appropriation for CVF, with a mechanism to reduce that appropriation automatically in later years if the balance of the fund falls below $5 billion.

As happens every year, Congress may make major changes in the administration’s budget request.

Rep. José Serrano (D-NY), chairman of the House subcommittee that reviews the DOJ budget, said he opposed Trump’s plan to reduce the COPS program.

Serrano also criticized Trump for proposing to “spend billions on a useless border wall that won’t fix our broken immigration system at the expense of programs that vitally important to most American families.”

Additional Reading: Congress Cuts Aid to Crime Victims Programs

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report.

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