’13 Federal Cuts to Justice Programs

Failure to agree on a deficit reduction plan in Washington by the end of the year may result in more cuts to criminal justice programs, according to a report released from the National Criminal Justice Association and the Vera Institute of Justice.

The cuts are a part of a process known as “sequestration,” part of the Budget Control Act passed by Congress in August 2011, which will mandate across-the-board cuts if Congress doesn’t resolve budget issues by the end of the year.

If a plan is not reached, all domestic federal discretionary spending, including for criminal justice programs, will face 8.2 percent cuts starting Jan. 2, 2012, and yearly reductions until the fiscal year 2021.

The report, based on national survey results of 714 responses from government and private organizations, found that U.S. Department of Justice funding to criminal justice agencies and nonprofit service providers has dropped by 43 per cent in the last two years.

Over three-quarters of the agencies and providers reported that their federal aid funding has steadily declined, while about 14 per cent said that the amounts of their grants had been cut by more than half.

Officials say that additional cuts to public safety grants could cripple efforts at the state and local level. More than half of the organizations that responded said that on average they had lost equivalent to 3.4 full-time employees.

Cuts to federal criminal justice grants will mean that substance abuse programs, victims’ advocates, drug task forces and other law enforcement programs could cease to exist now or in the near future. Major programs involved include Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), Byrne Justice Assistance Grants, Residential Substance Abuse Treatment for State Prisoners, federal juvenile delinquency prevention initiatives, and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

“The drug and meth problem are at epidemic levels and resources to combat the scourge are diminishing, which makes it difficult to fight and morale is very low,” wrote a Kentucky law enforcement representative. “Officers are overworked… it’s hard to estimate the devastation these cuts will make to an already horrible condition.”

Federal funding for state and local anti-crime efforts is “at a historically low level,” according to the Criminal Justice Association and Vera Institute.

“We have already reduced our work force by a third due to cutbacks in funding. To put it simply, further funding cuts of seven to nine percent yearly (as sequestration requires) will eventually put us out of business… There will be no one in our district to step up and do the job we have been doing,” wrote a Tennessee drug and violent crimes task force.

Of the effects already felt by the decrease in funding, the following were reported:

•Tucson’s police department was forced to eliminated 194 sworn and 40.5 civilian positions, including dispatchers and crime scene investigators, because of lack of funding.

•Sarasota County, Florida, had to eliminate three jobs at a center for mental health and case management for troubled youth. If the center were to close down, police who now wait just 15 minutes to drop off detained youth at the center would have to hold the detained themselves for up to six hours.

•A Pennsylvania agency said the government budget cuts for various services push these services by default onto local police. Funding for a drug task force, for example, was reduced, shutting down investigations for two months. This, they reported, permitted open drug sales, retail thefts, burglary and other thefts to increase and placed stress on police resources.

•In Carroll County, Ohio, the Sheriff’s Office reported that cuts since 2010 to justice assistance grants caused road patrol to be cut from two officers to one, and incident reports have increased in Carroll County by 32.3 percent. “Loss of personnel will cause lengthier response times and diminish overall security for county residents,” they forewarn.

“Victims and citizens do not want to hear that their safety is being jeopardized due to lack of funds and resources,” responded the Wilton Manors Police Department, in Florida.

“[P]rograms have already been cut 43 percent and those cuts have already had an effect on public safety,” commented Elizabeth Pyke, director of government affairs at the National Criminal Justice Association. The additional cuts mandated by sequestration, according to the report, “could leave the federal-state-local public safety partnership virtually unfunded by 2021.”

Sequestration will be addressed when members of Congress reconvene in Washington, D.C. following the November elections.