Obama Statement on Drastic Funding Cuts for Criminal Justice Program in Illinois

Press Release

By:  Barack Obama II
Date: April 3, 2008
Location: Washington, DC


Obama Statement on Drastic Funding Cuts for Criminal Justice Program in Illinois

Obama cosponsored legislation in 2005 to restore grant funding

U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) joined a bipartisan coalition of senators in calling on the Senate Appropriations Committee to fully fund the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne/JAG) Program in this year's Supplemental Appropriations bill. For more than two decades, the Byrne/JAG program has provided funding each year for nearly 4,000 state and local law enforcement officials to help make communities safer and improve criminal justice programs.

Last year, the Senate approved $660 million in the Fiscal Year 2008 Budget for this program. However, facing a veto threat from the President, this critical funding was reduced to $170 million in the Omnibus Appropriations package.

"Keeping our communities safe and ensuring that our justice system is fair and effective are top priorities for me in Illinois and throughout the country," said Senator Obama. "Since I first met with local law enforcement officials in Alton in 2005 to discuss the growing threats posed to our neighborhoods by meth production and addiction, I have consistently demanded that the President increase funding for the Byrne program. Nearly three years after I joined to introduce legislation to restore this funding, the President has once again slashed these funds. This is unacceptable, and I will work with my colleagues to restore this funding as soon as possible."

Since 2005, Senator Obama has urged his Senate colleagues and the President to increase funding for this program. In August of that year, Obama met with nearly a dozen local law enforcement officials and prosecutors at the Alton Law Enforcement Center in Madison County to hear first hand accounts of their experience with problems caused by meth use and production. These officers and prosecutors primarily expressed their concerns about the negative impact these funding cuts would have on drug investigations, particularly relating to meth, throughout the state. After hearing these concerns, Obama returned to Washington and joined several of his colleagues to introduce legislation to save the Byrne/JAG program.

The text of the letter is below:

Dear Chairman Byrd and Senator Cochran:

Restoration of severe cuts made to the Edward Byrne Justice Grant (Byrne/JAG) program through last year's omnibus appropriations bill is vital to avoid law enforcement layoffs and suspension of hundreds of anti-drug, gang and violent offender efforts across the country. Therefore, we respectfully request that you provide $489.6 million for the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne/JAG) program in any Supplemental Appropriations bill that comes before the Senate. This addition would restore Byrne/JAG funding to the same level previously approved by the Senate in the Commerce-Justice Science (CJS) Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2008 (FY 2008).

The Byrne Formula Grant Program is a tried and tested program that has served us well for more than two decades. The program's broad-based support was verified in the Senate's passage last year of S.231, the Feinstein-Chambliss Byrne/JAG Reauthorization Act, which would extend this $1.095 bill authorization through 2012. The bill received 52 co-sponsors and passed the Senate by unanimous consent.
As you know, the Senate-approved CJS Appropriations bill for FY2008 would have funded Byrne/JAG at $660 million. Following a veto threat, however, difficult choices had to be made in conference, and in the Omnibus Appropriations bill that ultimately passed, Byrne/JAG funding for FY2008 was reduced to only $170.4 million. This figure represented more than a 2/3 drop from Byrne/JAG's actual appropriated levels in FY2007.

In the wake of these drastic cuts, various law enforcement agencies, as well as numerous police and sheriff's offices, have notified us that these FY2008 Byrne/JAG cuts will have a devastating effect on law enforcement, forcing them to possibly close multi-jurisdictional drug and gang task forces, and negatively affecting a variety of other crime control programs. Particularly at a time when a risk of adverse economic conditions may lead to increased crime, it is vitally important that we support our nation's finest in their efforts on the front lines, where they risk their lives daily keeping Americans safe.

Unless these Byrne/JAG funds are restored promptly, law enforcement agencies may be forced to dismantle multi-jurisdiction task forces that often took years to create and develop. And individual officers serving on those task force members will face a loss of income or even their jobs, some of which have been held for years.

Each year, Byrne/JAG dollars fund over 4,000 police officers and prosecutors working on over 750 drug enforcement task forces in all 50 states across hundreds of urban and rural countries and cities. On an annual basis, Byrne/JAG funding leads to over 220,000 arrests, 54,000 weapons seized, the seizure of 5.5 million grams of methamphetamine, and the breakup of almost 9,000 methamphetamine labs. These successes show that we need to continue what we are doing, not cut back.

Funding for Byrne/JAG, at its $1.095 billion authorized level, has long been supported by America's leading law enforcement organizations, including the National Narcotic Officers' Associations' Coalition, National Sheriffs' Association, National Association of Counties, National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors, Legal Action Center, National District Attorneys' Association, National HIDTA Directors Association, International Association of Chiefs of Police, Major County Sheriffs Association, National Criminal Justice Association, National Alliance of State Drug Enforcement Agencies, Major City Chiefs Association, National Troopers Coalition, State Association of Addiction Services, the National Crime Prevention Council and the Fraternal Order of Police.

There is strong bipartisan support for the Byrne/JAG Program, and we urge you to provide this critically needed funding in any supplemental appropriations bill that comes before the Senate this year.