Byrne JAG federal funding -- can public defense systems get these funds?

Commonly referred to as Byrne/JAG grants, the official name is the "Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program."  The program is administered by the Department of Justice (DOJ), Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), and is described by BJA as "the leading source of federal justice funding to state and local jurisdictions."

Short History

The Byrne/JAG program of today is a blend of the previous Byrne Grant program and the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant program.  The Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance (Byrne Grant) program was originally established in 1988 (P.L. 100-690).  One component created the Byrne Formula Grant program, which made funding awards to states for 29 program purposes.  Established in 1996 (P.L. 104-134), the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant (LLEBG) program provided funding to state and local government units for 6 purpose areas.

In 2005, Congress combined these into the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program, to streamline the process for states in applying for funding.  The laws governing the program are set out in 42 U.S.C.A. sections 3750 through 3758.  They were enacted by Public Law 109-162 as part of the "Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005."  Title XI of that Act, sections 1101 through 1199, created the Byrne/JAG program as it exists today.

The BJA solicitations say that "JAG funds may be used for state and local initiatives, technical assistance, training, personnel, equipment, supplies, contractual support, information systems for criminal justice, as well as research and evaluation activities that will improve or enhance:

  • Law enforcement programs
  • Prosecution and court programs
  • Prevention and education programs
  • Corrections and community corrections programs
  • Drug treatment and enforcement programs
  • Planning, evaluation, and technology improvement programs
  • Crime victim and witness programs (other than compensation)."

Obviously missing from this list is public defense programs, however, in the 2010 solicitations, BJA expressly stated "it can be understood that the JAG Purpose Area 'Prosecution and court programs' listed above, provides the states and local units of government with the authority to fund defender, judicial, pretrial, and court administration efforts as well as prosecution programs."

The basics of the program

Congress allocates funds in the federal budget each year for the JAG Program, which are initially administered by the BJA.  Each year, BJA issues two solicitations, one for states & territories and one for local government units, to apply for these funds.  BJA uses a complicated formula to decide how much money each state can receive overall.  Once the state funding is calculated, 60% is made through state awards and 40% is made through local awards.   (Territories are exempt from the 60/40 split.)  Of the 60% allocated to the state awards, a percentage of that is required to be passed through the state to units of local government.

The solicitations are typically released in the late spring (for example: May 22, 2009; April 26, 2010), with applications due in early summer (example: June 25, 2009; June 16, 2010), and awards are generally made by the end of summer (example: September 30, 2009; September 30, 2010).  The awards can be expended over a 4-year period, beginning October 1 (start of the federal fiscal year) preceding the year in which the award is made.  The State applications are due first, with Local applications normally due a week or two later.

The Local solicitation is limited to specific local government units contained in a list that BJA produces each year.  While the information on the list is about as clear as mud, the bottom line is that some counties and cities are determined to be eligible for individual grants exceeding $10,000.  These local government units are allowed to apply directly to BJA for these funds, rather than applying jointly along with everyone else as part of the State solicitation funding.

It is the State solicitation that is of the most interest to public defense systems and providers.  All 50 states and the 6 territories (District of Columbia; Commonwealth of Puerto Rico; Northern Mariana Islands; Virgin Islands; Guam; and American Samoa) are theoretically eligible to apply for and receive funds through the program.  Each state and territory has a State Administering Agency (SAA) -- a state agency designated by the Governor -- that is responsible for applying to BJA under the State solicitation.  

It is the SAA for your state that public defenders will need to apply to in order to seek Byrne JAG funds!!!  You can find the SAA for your state or territory here, by clicking on your state and then looking through the list under the "Bureau of Justice Assistance" heading to find the "Justice Assistance Grant Contact."  Each state's SAA operates under some local name, and each largely determines for itself how it will make up the state's application for funding.  You should begin very early in the calendar year getting to know your SAA, the people who run the program, and the rules by which they operate the program.  If you wait until the BJA solicitations are released in the spring, it will likely be too late to get public defense initiatives included in your state's application.

The National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA) serves as something of an umbrella organization for the SAAs.  NCJA provides extensive information about JAG funding each year on their website, but some of it is a little difficult to find.  The Policies & Practices tab, Byrne JAG Data Collection, provides basic information about the distribution of JAG funds during 2009.  Far more detailed information is provided on their Government Affairs tab, Appropriations.  There you can find year by year overall budget information and allocations to each state from 2008 forward, as well as NCJA's advocacy materials.  In 2009, Kay Cohen, Deputy Executive Director of NCJA, met with the American Council of Chief Defenders (ACCD) at their annual spring conference to explain JAG funds, SAAs, and how public defense can seek funding.  If you need information, email Kay Cohen.

How funds have been distributed in the past

Historically, very little of JAG funding has ever reached indigent defense systems.  In 2010, NCJA conducted a survey of SAAs, seeking answers about how states and local communities used their JAG funds.  The survey compiled data on how funds were spent in 2009 (which could include money from 2007, 2008, and 2009 JAG awards, as well as special Recovery Act awards made in 2009).  The results show that, of a total of $1,203,538,214 spent during 2009, only $3,208,686 was spent on public defense -- or roughly 1/4 of 1 percent (0.0027).  NCJA issued this paper explaining what SAAs said about how funds were used to support indigent defense in 2009.

During 2009 and 2010, members of the American Council of Chief Defenders (ACCD) exchanged information about their efforts in applying for JAG funds.  If you would like to get in contact with chief defenders to learn more about their experiences, email the ACCD.

Additional Resources:

BJA website for Byrne/JAG grants

BJA's 2010 Byrne/JAG answers to Frequently Asked Questions

BJA's Byrne/JAG Fact Sheet 


Author/Organization: Phyllis E. Mann
Publication Date: 02/25/2011