Congress Cuts Crime Victim Aid, Tracks Police Misconduct

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Photo by Cissey Ye via Flickr

Federal aid to programs that help crime victims would drop by nearly one-third under an appropriations bill for the current spending year approved by congressional leaders on Sunday night.

The bill also creates a federal task force on law enforcement oversight to deal with allegations of law-enforcement misconduct and funds the development of databases to track excessive use of force and other misconduct by police officers.

The reduction in crime victim aid comes in the form of a cap on the amount available from the federal Crime Victims Fund for victim services for the year ending next Sept. 30 at $1.469 billion, down from $2.064 billion in the last fiscal year.

Under a 1984 federal anticrime law, the Crime Victims Fund is comprised not of federal tax income but rather of fines and penalties paid in federal criminal cases.

That total has been falling in recent years, partly because more major cases have been resolved by non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements in which corporate defendants may pay penalties to the U.S. Treasury, but those outcomes are not classified as criminal cases that benefit the victims’ fund.

Victim advocates and other criminal justice organizations supported a “deposits fix” that would have allowed proceeds from the non-criminal settlements to be deposited in the fund, but that measure was not included in this week’s bill, reports the National Criminal Justice Association.

The proposed fix had strong bipartisan support but was blocked by a key House member.

Overall, the bill provides $33.8 billion overall for the Department of Justice, $1.18 billion above last year’s level and $874.4 million above the President’s budget request.

The FBI will get $10.31 billion, an increase of $361.9 million above last year.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons will be allocated $7.84 billion, an increase of $57.4 million

Congress fully funded the $409,483,000 requested by the Trump administration for programs authorized by the 2018 prison and sentencing reform bill known as the First Step Act.

The task force on law enforcement misconduct will be comprised of Justice Department officials in “consultation with law enforcement, labor, and community-based organizations.”

Its mission will be “to coordinate the detection and referral of complaints” about police wrongdoing.

A separate provision of the law provides $5 million to create databases on police excessive use of force and officer misconduct.

Congress says the databases should be planned along with state and local law
enforcement agencies, community organizations, and advocacy groups, “including those that advocate for the preservation of civil liberties and civil rights.”

The appropriations bill still must be approved by both houses of Congress and signed by President Trump. That is expected to occur this week to prevent the federal government from shutting down.

As approved by federal appropriators, the bill includes virtually level funding for most anticrime aid to state and local government.

Funding for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program will rise to $360 million from $349 million last year.

States and local governments are not expected to receive funding for criminal justice programs under the separate legislation that is being finalized this week on COVID-19 relief issues.

The coronavirus bill includes about $4.25 billion to support mental health and substance use disorder treatment.

Among totals in the pending bill for other Justice Department programs:

  • Violence Against Women Act “STOP” grants: $215 million, the same as in fiscal year 2020.
  • Police officer hiring under the COPS program, $157 million, up from $156 million last year.
  • Drug courts, $83 million, up from $80 million in the last fiscal year.
  • Mental health courts, $35 million, up from $33 million.
  • Veterans treatment courts, $25 million, up from $23 million.
  • Aid to so-called Title II programs to fight juvenile crime, $67 million, up from $63 million.
  • The Residential Substance Abuse Treatment program would get $34 million, up from $31 million.
  • DNA backlog reduction, $141 million, up from DNA backlog reduction – $141 million, up from $132 million.
  • Coverdell forensic science grants, $33 million, up from $30 million.
  • National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), $85 million, up from $78 million.
  • Comprehensive Opioid Assistance Program (COAP)m $185 million, up from $180 million.
  • Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, $32 million, up from $1 million.
  • Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI), $33 million, up from $28 million.
  • Second Chance Act  $77 million, up from $62 million.

House members attempted to include in the appropriations bill many provisions of the policing reform legislation that was approved by the House earlier this year but was not taken up by the Senate.

Outside of the police misconduct task force and data collection, those measures were not included in the final bill. They are expected to be debated again in the congressional session that starts in January.

Both Houses also passed and sent to President Trump a Crisis Stabilization and Community Reentry Act that creates a $10 million grant program for state and local correctional facilities to provide clinical services for people with serious mental illness who need help after their release.

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

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