The Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program (“JAG”), administered by the Office of Justice Program’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) is the largest of the Justice Department’s grant programs. In 2012 nearly $300 million was allocated to states and localities to support federal, state, local, and tribal governments in implementing innovative approaches in a wide range of criminal justice program areas. Defenders, however, have not consistently been a part of state and local planning processes for allocating Byrne JAG funds, and have not consistently received a portion of these funds. Funds dedicated to indigent defense constitute only about 3 percent of all criminal justice expenditures in our nation’s largest localities.
The Justice Department’s Access to Justice Initiative (ATJ) and BJA have been working to promote increased representation of the indigent defense community on state and local advisory committees responsible for allocating Byrne JAG and other criminal justice funds
Since 2010, indigent defense has been identified by the Justice Department as one of several key priority areas for maximizing the effectiveness of Byrne JAG funding. The 2012 Byrne JAG solicitation stated that the strategic planning process should include a variety of partners, including law enforcement, courts, prosecutors, indigent defense providers, victim advocates, and corrections officials. For the first time, it also required applicants to submit a program narrative that not only describes the strategic planning process, but also identifies the stakeholders currently participating in the process.
The Justice Department is working with the National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA) to survey State Administering Agencies (SAAs) to understand more about the strategic planning process. These efforts are intended to help support Byrne JAG recipients with strategic planning, allow the Department to better assess the extent to which states are engaged in strategic planning and whether the recommendation that these efforts include all criminal justice stakeholders, including indigent defense, is being followed.
The Justice Department and the NCJA are also conducting a series of webinars to highlight the DOJ’s ongoing work to encourage jurisdictions to bring together all system stakeholders in criminal justice planning conversations, and to showcase strategies for integrating indigent defense and other functions into criminal justice resource planning.