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Recovery Money for Byrne JAG Won’t Stimulate Greater Public Safety

October 2010:

The Justice Policy Institute (JPI), a research and policy organization in Washington, D.C. that studies law enforcement issues, recently reviewed two documents related to the $2 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds spent on the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program: a new U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released October 15, 2010 and a National Criminal Justice Association release on self-reported spending on the program by states in 2009.1 JPI found that both reports reinforce the need for lawmakers to re-examine funding for the Byrne JAG program.

Outcomes and impact of the funding are not being adequately assessed. In its report, the GAO reviewed ARRA funding of Byrne Justice Assistance Grants (JAG) in 14 states. These states collectively received a little over half of the ARRA Byrne JAG funds, and as of June 30, 2010 had spent about $270 million.

According to the GAO report, “The DOJ’s performance measures do not consistently exhibit key attributes of successful performance measurement systems, such as clarity, reliability, linkage, objectivity, and measurable targets.” As a result of a lack of clear evaluation measures the impact of increased funding through these grants is unclear and benchmarks for assessment are absent. This information is consistent with past reports that showed the Byrne JAG Program did not produce significant public safety outcomes. With taxpayers spending more than $2 billion in funding for these activities, measurable public safety outcomes are a necessity. That state and local grantees have not produced measurable outcomes calls into question the wisdom of such large outlays of federal dollars.

Funding continues to be focused on law enforcement despite decreases in crime.

Byrne JAG grants can be used to fund a variety of justice-related activities, including treatment and prevention. As the graph shows, violent crime has steadily declined for the past five years. Given the decline in both violent and nonviolent crime,2 ARRA funds should have been appropriated with greater emphasis on important social services. However, according to both the GAO and NCJA reports, Byrne JAG grants are most frequently used to fund law enforcement, corrections and prosecution. Research shows spending on law enforcement frequently results in increased arrests and incarceration of people for low-level, often nonviolent, offenses and has a disparate impact on people and communities of color.

For the remainder of this paper: by Justice Policy Institute

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