Written by SSDP’s Policy Council
The Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) Program (42 U.S.C. § 3751(a)) is the primary way states, tribes, and local jurisdictions are provided federal criminal justice funding. JAG funding can be used for a variety of initiatives such as law enforcement; prosecution, courts, and indigent defense; crime prevention and education; corrections and community corrections; drug treatment and enforcement, etc. While in theory, this funding could be used to create a more fair and equitable criminal justice system, due to the flexibility of this funding, states and local communities are able to allocate the resources at their discretion. Therefore in practice, between October 2015 and September 2016, 61% of JAG funding was spent on law enforcement. Of the funding spent on law enforcement, over 5 million dollars were spent on duty equipment such as soft body armor, handcuffs, flashlights etc.; over 2.5 million dollars were spent on weapons; and almost 700 thousand dollars were spent on controlled items such as unmanned aerial vehicles, armored vehicles, specialized firearms, explosives, riot equipment, etc. In contrast, a mere 2% of Byrne JAG funding was spent on behavioral health and only 1% on public defender funding.
SSDP recognizes that Byrne JAG funding has been used to perpetuate systemic police violence, militarization, and brutality, especially in economically impoverished communities of color. The perpetual attacks on communities of color presented under a guise of “law and order” has systematically oppressed those communities similarly to the oppression of Jim Crow laws of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In addition, deliberate partisan attempts by the current administration to block funding from cities deemed as “sanctuary cities” further demonstrates the volatile nature of the Byrne JAG grant program. As such, SSDP calls on Congress to eliminate writing what amount to blank checks to state and local jurisdictions via the Byrne JAG grant program.
With respect to that, SSDP recently supported the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act of 2020, which effectively bans law enforcement use of facial recognition in the United States. In order to enforce this bill on a state and local level, it imposes restrictions on Byrne JAG funding, should state and local jurisdictions choose not to comply. While this bill does not eliminate Byrne JAG funding, SSDP believes the impositions of such restrictions on funding, along with a ban on tyrannical facial recognition technology, which would automate racially discriminatory policing, are crucial steps towards protecting the future of our criminal justice system from further racial bias. In addition, SSDP urges congress to pass this bill as soon as possible to protect the civil liberties and privacy of young people and future generations.