Attorney General Merrick Garland announces $78 million in federal grants for anti-violence programs

Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during the Office of Justice Programs’ second annual Community Violence Intervention and Prevention Grantee Conference on Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

U.S. Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland on Wednesday announced $78 million in new grants for community-based violence prevention programs he credited with playing an integral role in reducing crime.

Garland made his announcement while addressing a ballroom at the downtown Hyatt Regency filled with hundreds of activists and researchers who received a previous round of grants.

He said the additional money represents a “doubling down” by Justice Department funding for programs that began two years ago to counter a surge in gun violence.

Garland cited a 13% decline in homicides nationwide in 2023. Killings in Chicago declined by 12% last year, the second consecutive year that the number of murders in the city has fallen following two years of near historic levels of violence.

“Every person in every neighborhood deserves to be protected and to feel protected,” Garland said. “That is why the Justice Department is not easing up on our efforts to reduce violent crime. In fact today we are doubling down.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland chats with Assistant Attorney General Amy Solomon before he is introduced to address the Office of Justice Programs’ second annual Community Violence Intervention and Prevention Grantee Conference on Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Previous grant recipients include READI Chicago, formerly headed by Eddie Bocanegra, who emceed Wednesday’s conference in his current role as a senior advisor to the Justice Department.

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A recent study of the READI program showed that participants were two-thirds less likely to be arrested for a shooting, and were 20% less likely to be shot themselves, Garland pointed out.

A Justice Department program called Community Based Violence Intervention and Prevention Initiative had already received some $350 million in federal funds.

Combined with state funds, federal COVID relief funds and private money, violence intervention programs have seen “absolutely historic” amounts of funding in recent years, according to Louisa Avila, a New York-based program officer for the Joyce Foundation.

“These kinds of federal commitments encourage a lot of other funders, in philanthropy and at the local level,” Avila said. “These kinds of programs have been badly underfunded for years, and they still need more funding. It takes meaningful public investment to produce improvements in public safety.”

In Chicago alone, the cost of expanding violence outreach programs to a level that would produce a 50% decrease in homicides — a level not seen since the 1960s — would cost about $400 million over the next five years, according to a coalition of city, state and county leaders.

Private donors from the city’s business community have pledged $66 million to the effort. Under former Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the programs received millions in additional funding from the city and federal COVID relief funds.

In Lowell, Mass., a $900,000 federal grant, coupled with additional state and philanthropic funding, has allowed an outreach group to hire additional workers and triple the number of participants in its programs for at-risk young people and those returning from prison.

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Whether funding will continue at current levels is a concern for Nichelle Sadler, executive director of the group’s training center.

“I’ve been in this work since the 1990s, and I’ve seen the ups and downs for funding in this space,” Sadler said. “The funding (the past few years) has made a huge, huge difference. I don’t take it for granted, and I’m always on edge.”

Eddie Bocanegra, of the Community Violence Intervention office at the U. S. Department of Justice, speaks during the Office of Justice Programs’ second annual Community Violence Intervention and Prevention Grantee Conference on Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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