GAO Report Shows Byrne JAG Money Spent Without Sufficient Evaluation Measures

Majority of money spent on law enforcement and corrections despite falling crime rates

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Friday, October 15, 2010, reviewed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s funding of Byrne Justice Assistance Grants (JAG) in 14 states. Byrne JAG grants can be used to fund a variety of justice-related activities, including treatment and prevention, but are most frequently used to fund law enforcement, corrections and prosecution according to this report. The Justice Policy Institute (JPI), a research and policy organization in Washington, D.C. that studies law enforcement spending, said the report should cause lawmakers to re-examine funding for this program.

“At a time when crime rates are falling, it is foolish to continue funneling billions of taxpayer dollars towards law enforcement,” said Tracy Velázquez, executive director of JPI. “Instead of taking an opportunity to ‘right-size’ law enforcement and make needed investments in treatment and rehabilitation services, the $2 billion spent will lead to increased incarceration of people for nonviolent offenses.”

JPI has found that increasing funds for law enforcement frequently results in more arrests and incarceration without a decrease in crime. Research continues to show that localities should invest in proven, cost-effective programs and services shown to reduce recidivism, save money and improve public safety. In addition, according to the GAO report, the impact of increased funding through these grants is unclear and benchmarks for assessment are lacking.

As of June 30, 2010 about $270 million of Recovery Act JAG funds had been spent by 14 reviewed states. The GAO report found that more than half of the money was spent on law enforcement and corrections. Here is how the spending from the reviewed states breaks down:

  • 29.8% ($168,452,562) Law enforcement
  • 24.4% ($137,673,969) Corrections
  • 13.4% ($75,390,630) Prosecution and courts
  • 13.3% ($75,132,681) Drug treatment and enforcement
  • 12.2% ($68,760,405) Program planning, evaluation and technology improvement
  • 4.8% ($27,323,285) Crime prevention and education
  • 2.1% ($11,825,082) Crime victim and witness programs

Spending on law enforcement frequently results in increased arrests and incarceration of people for low-level, often nonviolent, offenses and has a disparate impact on people and communities of color. Funding for drug treatment is less than half of that for law enforcement. Of the reviewed states, California has recognized and invested in the positive impact offering drug treatment can have on public safety, but most states still choose to direct funds toward policing and incarceration. Some of the funding that is designated for drug treatment and enforcement is spent on drug task forces and drug courts, both of which are shown to widen the net of justice involvement, creating further costs and adding to incarceration figures. Instead, JPI recommends funding treatment options outside of the justice system through the public health system.

In response to a performance measurement calling for changes in arrests, these grants appear to be encouraging more arrests to give the appearance of an improved bottom line rather than focusing on public safety. At a time when crime is down, the requirement to increase arrests will only result in more low-level arrests and more long-term costs including increased court and incarceration costs. Velázquez also noted that the combination of incentivized policing and shrinking public defender budgets will further tilt the scales of justice away from low income communities.

“Where money needs to be spent on justice activities, we ought to focus on programs and investments that are proven to improve public safety and reduce costs,” added Velázquez. “Treatment programs have been shown time and again to reduce costs and improve safety, and states continue to ignore this research at their own peril. If states are truly concerned with their budgets and improving the well-being of their communities, they need to focus their spending on preventing people from coming in contact with the criminal justice system in the first place.”

Finally, the GAO report states, “The DOJ’s performance measures do not consistently exhibit key attributes of successful performance measurement systems, such as clarity, reliability, linkage, objectivity, and measurable targets.” JPI agrees with the GAO that with taxpayers spending more than $2 billion in funding for these activities, measurable public safety outcomes are a necessity. The lack of reliable outcome data should call into question the future of such funding.

Velázquez concluded, “American taxpayers cannot be expected to continue to fork over money for failed programs that destabilize communities, are a detriment to public safety and incur more costs down the road. At a time when all of our pocketbooks are strained, at the very least, we should expect accountability for where our money is being spent.”

For additional information, please contact Jason Fenster at (202) 558-7974 x306 or [email protected]. For more on JPI’s research, please visit our website at

The Justice Policy Institute (JPI) is a Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to reducing society’s use of incarceration and promoting just and effective social policies.


To see the Justice Policy Institute’s analysis of the GAO report, click here.