Fed Rescue Package Will Steer $850 Million to Local Police, Jails

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The $2.2 trillion economic rescue package expected to be approved by Congress on Friday includes several provisions to help state and local law enforcement and federal prisons deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The largest criminal justice item in the measure, which has been approved by the Senate and awaits passage by the House and President Donald Trump’s signature, is $850 million for the Byrne-Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program.

The allocation will allow state and local police departments and jails to purchase “personal protective equipment and other needed medical items and to support overtime for officers on the front lines,” says Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Leahy says the bill will enable resources to go out to states and localities quickly and to  avoid what he calls “unnecessary Trump Administration-imposed roadblocks intended to punish so-called sanctuary cities.”

Under Byrne JAG, money in the bill also could go to other parts of the criminal justice system, including probation and parole, juvenile justice, and violence against women.

“The Byrne JAG program provides exactly the kind of flexible funding that states and local jurisdictions need at this critical time,” said Chris Asplen, executive director of the National Criminal Justice Association, which represents state and local justice programs in Washington, D.C.

He added that state offices that distribute the federal aid “are experienced grant managers who are well situated to ensure that this necessary funding is used in a way that maximizes its potential to assist the criminal justice community.”

The bill includes $100 million for the Federal Bureau of Prisons to meet urgent needs such as purchase of personal protective equipment and other medical equipment, funding overtime, and cleaning facilities.

Also in the funding legislation is a total of $55 million for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshals Service, and U.S. Attorneys to respond to the coronavirus crisis and for justice system information sharing technology.

The U.S. Supreme Court will get $500,000, and the bill will authorize judges to allow video or telephone conferencing for certain hearings, reports Bloomberg Law.

Lower federal courts will get $6 million, including funds for drug and substance abuse treatment programs. The Federal Defender Service, responsible for representing indigent defendants, would get an additional $1 million “to continue representing clients without disruption,” Leahy’s summary said.

The 880-page measure is the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history, the Associated Press reports. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced the Senate’s approval and released senators from the Capitol until April 20.

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

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