Unless residents of Franklin County take immediate action to prevent reduced federal funding for the Byrne/Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program, the Department of Justice will suffer a $645,000 budget cut in 2008, warns Franklin County Commissioner Marilyn Brown.
Brown made her comment at a community forum held on March 5 at the Columbus Police Academy. Led by Franklin County Commissioners Brown, Paula Brooks and Mary Jo Kilroy, and attended by various community justice proponents, the forum highlighted the impending results of the proposed 67 percent decrease in funding for the JAG program, if allowed.
"This is such a critical issue," said Brown. "These cuts will be devastating to communities in Ohio."
With over half of the program’s funds retracted, Franklin County will witness the reduction or termination of programs that currently promote crime prevention and education, victim services, prosecution and community oriented policing.
"There’s no time to lose," said Brown.
Commissioners encourage residents of Franklin County to contact congressional representatives in order to restore funds to the JAG program by writing letters and making telephone calls.
"When you don’t do anything when a fund gets cut, you’re basically saying that it’s okay to cut this fund," said Karhlton Moore, Executive Director of the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services.
Area community justice groups that collaborate and benefit from the JAG program attended the forum to broadcast the detrimental effect that a decrease in funding bodes, amplifying the message that cuts in JAG funds are unacceptable.
The Mentoring Center of Central Ohio, partnered with the Big Brothers Big Sisters Association, First Link and others, expects to lose two-thirds of its funds from the JAG program.
"We are already squeezing a tremendous amount out of every dollar," said Director Marilyn Pritchett.
"For small organizations, it’s (funding from the JAG program) an impressive percentage of the total amount of money required to function."
CHOICES, a non-profit organization in effect to provide local services for those affected by domestic violence, relies on funds from the JAG program to accommodate nearly 200 victims of abuse.
"If we can’t provide services to these people, what are we saying?" asked Gail Heller, Director of CHOICES.
For Franklin County residents, a cut in the JAG program funds means added risk, not only to public safety, but also to the hope for a second chance and an improved quality of life.
Tonya Jackson, a participant in the Mental Health Program of the Ohio Department of Mental Health, did not have custody of her five children when she entered the program due to various stints in jail as a result of a drug and alcohol addiction.
As a result of the program, which receives $250,000 per year in JAG funding, Jackson has been sober for one and a half years and has full custody of her children.
"If it wasn’t for this program, I wouldn’t be where I am," said Jackson.
"For that money to be cut and for someone like me not to have a second chance is very disturbing because my life today is better than I could have ever imagined."
Other programs facing financial debilitation include the STOP program, Operation Street Smart, the Sexual Offender Registration Notification (SORN) program, cyber-crime investigation support and police technology, to name a few.
Franklin County Sheriff, James Karns, in an effort to encourage local involvement, stated "Our states, our communities, our counties, our cities cannot fill this gap. We need federal funds."