Survey Reveals the Impact of Federal Budget Cuts on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Practitioners

While crime rates are at historic lows, anti-crime initiatives across the nation are being jeopardized by three years of reduced funding by the federal government, according to a nationwide survey of criminal justice practitioners conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) and National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA).

The survey, conducted for the second consecutive year by Vera and NCJA, asked 1,226 state and local organizations about their work and funding sources and to describe the impact of recent cuts in federal funding on their communities. Survey respondents included law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, social service providers, and administrators from juvenile justice and prevention programs, victim assistance programs, and the judicial system.

The survey revealed that 78 percent of respondents reported a decrease in grant funding since FY10, and that 43 percent reported cuts of between 11 and 25 percent.

Respondents reported that the cuts have had a significant impact on their ability to effectively fight crime, due to the vital role that grants from the Department of Justice (DOJ) play in crime prevention strategies. State and local governments depend on these grants to fund efforts such as anti-drug task forces, domestic violence initiatives, drug treatment programs, and innovative juvenile justice strategies.

Not only have programs been reduced or eliminated, but many respondents reported reduced staffing levels and pay or hiring freezes. Sixty-four percent of law enforcement agencies reported reductions in staffing due to the cuts, while that number climbed to 65 percent for juvenile justice and prevention programs and 72 percent for corrections departments. 

This downward trend is expected to continue under the Budget Control Act of 2011, which set out a schedule for deficit reduction requiring additional cuts of about five to eight percent in DOJ spending every year through FY21.

“This survey paints a nationwide picture of increasingly understaffed law enforcement agencies, programs, and communities that are suffering under the weight of federal budget cuts to more than 75 percent of the responding agencies,” said Daniel F. Wilhelm, vice president and chief program officer at Vera. “Federal funding supports a multitude of programs and activities that are essential to public safety and the administration of justice -- everything from anti-gang task forces, crime scene investigation training, inmate education programs, and scores of other initiatives to serve the public.  A return to robust federal support for such initiatives is fundamental to the safety and justice of our nation’s communities and the people who live in them.”
"This survey illustrates what we see in the field every day,” said NCJA President and Executive Director of the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority Jack Cutrone. “Diminishing resources means diminishing support for our law enforcement and criminal and juvenile justice systems. That translates into fewer services to people who need them and less support for victims of crime. These programs really matter in the lives of our communities and people suffer when they are cut."

In addition to quantitative findings, the survey features comments from criminal justice practitioners across the country that reveal the impact funding cuts are having on their agencies and the communities they serve. Some examples:

  • A Missouri law enforcement practitioner said the reduction in funding has forced his agency to stop searching for Internet predators proactively, “but are rather forced to investigate these crimes after children have been victimized.”
  • An Oklahoma prosecution manager said, “We have had to eliminate our drug and violent crimes unit, which has successfully handled over 40 drug cases just in the past year, which included a drug bust which took down a distribution ring which had cartel affiliates who were arrested.”
  • A Nevada corrections official said, “This loss of funding has caused us to eliminate programs and services with community partners that have provided direct services in counseling and substance abuse for released offenders. We have been unable to expand any programs or services for our inmate population and these reduced services could lead to an increase in recidivism rates over the next few years as our inmates return to the community.”
  • A juvenile justice manager in Texas said, “Many of our youth have severe mental health issues that may go undiagnosed and/or untreated. With the loss of our federal grant, our program to work with violent offenders will be watered down, we will not have enough money for all clients to receive individual counseling.”