Edward R. “Eddie” Byrne was just 22 years old—a rookie cop from a family of cops—when his life was taken in a random, brutal murder. While on duty protecting a witness, Byrne was ambushed and shot in the head five times by members of a New York City street gang who had been ordered to kill a police officer—any police officer.
But more than three decades later—the 34th anniversary of his passing was February 26—Byrne’s name and legacy are associated with far more than his tragic death. His life and service are commemorated by the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program, a federal initiative that has offered unprecedented support for state, local, territorial, and tribal law enforcement agencies across America.
Since 2005, the Byrne JAG Program has awarded more than 22,000 grants that total more than $7 billion, including $272 million this year alone. The program has supported and promoted improvements in every aspect of the justice system, from policing to prosecution and public defense, to corrections and reentry from incarceration. Its impact on advancing public safety and equal justice has been consequential.
When U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced this year’s Byrne JAG grants, he noted that they are designed to achieve “a justice system that is fair, equitable, and engages the communities” where JAG grants are deployed.
These grants will help support traditional crime reduction and violence prevention efforts across the country as well as innovative community violence intervention strategies that increase trust and make communities a full partner in protecting public health and safety.
—U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland
It is impossible to describe a “typical” program that is supported by Byrne JAG grants because the program intentionally rejects a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, public safety agencies design and submit plans that address the unique challenges facing their communities. The Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), which administers the Byrne JAG Program, gives applicants latitude to innovate. And Byrne JAG grants cover the entire cost of implementing a new initiative.
The Byrne JAG Program’s goals are not simply to fund more policing and more prosecutions. Its broader aim is to make communities safer and the justice system fairer. As Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Amy L. Solomon commented, “Public safety and equal justice are twin, and mutually reinforcing, goals.”
With these goals in mind, Byrne JAG grants have been used to fund a broad range of initiatives. They have helped bring the latest forensic technology to police crime labs. They have helped train corrections officers to identify prisoners with behavioral health issues. They have provided assistance to witnesses in criminal cases and to victims of crime. They have supported efforts to prevent crime before it happens and to reduce violence when it does.
Whatever their purpose, all Byrne JAG grants have a common feature: Every agency that receives a grant must track and report its program’s results. This enables BJA and other entities to determine patterns and to widely share lessons and insights derived from these programs.
Byrne JAG grants have helped launch many innovative programs. Two very different examples can be found in Connecticut and California.
In Connecticut, state corrections officials established a program called “WORTH” that prepares incarcerated women ages 18–25 for reentry into society. The women are teamed with older mentors and housed in a separate unit in the state’s only facility for women. These mentors help establish the rules that govern their daily routines. In addition, they are supported by community volunteers and have access to job training, substance abuse treatment, and much more.
The program is only 4 years old, but its initial results are encouraging. To date, WORTH participants have a recidivism rate of 14 percent, much lower than the state average.
In California, San Joaquin County prosecutors and public defenders joined with state corrections officials to design a program that enables youthful offenders to avoid incarceration, and potentially a criminal record, by completing rigorous, individually tailored rehabilitation programs.
Project Navigating Constructive Change (PNCC) targets young men ages 15–30. In PNCC, these young men involved in the justice system plead guilty to the charges against them, but then they enroll in programs that typically last 6 to 15 months and involve counseling, education, and job training. They are not incarcerated. If they graduate from these programs, their charges may be reduced or dismissed.
More than 100 young men have completed PNCC, and local officials are tracking its impact on recidivism and other issues.
Eddie Byrne died much too young. But his sacrifice helped inspire a program that continues to influence law enforcement and the criminal justice system in ways he could never have imagined. The Byrne JAG Program is his true legacy.
For more information about the Byrne JAG Program and to learn how it might support your work or your community, go to Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program section of our site.