When Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced earlier this year that so-called Sanctuary jurisdictions would lose Justice Department grants, Youth Services Insider wondered how far-reaching the penalty would be.
Last week, letters went out to California and several major cities and counties – including Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami, New Orleans and Milwaukee – notifying them to comply with federal law on the matter or face fiscal recriminations.
This is a notoriously vague part of the federal penalty structure. Laws often promise a penalty or withholding of funds for failure to comply, but then don’t specify what the penalty would be. This was the case recently with the Prison Rape Elimination Act, and with the Adam Walsh Act requirements for states on a national sex offender registry.
We knew the penalty would hone in on grants from the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), since that’s the main distributor of federal dollars back to state’s. OJP has lots of different programs and agencies that send grants to states, including the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), which administers the ever-dwindling federal portfolio on the subject.
OJJDP’s main funding mechanism is the Title II Formula grants, which go to states in exchange for their compliance with the four core standards of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. Last year, there were 56 grants for a total of $39.5 million, all to state level agencies.
It appears from the letters sent last week that Sessions has honed in on the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants, known by the dorks who follow Justice funding as Byrne JAG. Last year’s spending from that program: $84.1 million going to just over 1,000 grantees. And all of those grantees are government entities: county or city offices, police or sheriff’s departments, etc.
Byrne JAG is, for all intents and purposes, a federal slush fund for local projects. It used to be one of the many OJP streams that got completely earmarked by Congress before the money was even appropriated; with the elimination of pork, there is a competition managed by OJP for the funds.
If one was to agree with penalizing these jurisdictions, Byrne JAG makes sense in that it prevents states, or service providers, from feeling the sting of local government decisions (with the notable exception of California). Docking the OJJDP formula grant, for example, would punish all of Louisiana for a decision made by the New Orleans’ governing body.
So it appears that OJJDP funds are safe at the moment from being withheld in sanctuary sites. There are routinely about five to 10 juvenile justice-related projects funded through Byrne JAG though, so there is still potential for a small impact on the field going forward.
At the moment, the only juvenile-related, Byrne-funded venture in jeopardy appears to be in Covina, Calif. For the past six years, the Covina Police Department’s Youth Accountability Board has received between $10,000 and $12,000 annually from Byrne JAG. The grant pays for a part-time staffer to coordinate the six-person board, which is responsible for interventions for first-time offenders that commit minor offenses.
That accountability board was set for elimination in 2010, before the department snagged its first Byrne grant for it.