Witness Security Program:

Prosecutive Results and Participant Arrest Data

GGD-84-87: Published: Aug 23, 1984. Publicly Released: Sep 7, 1984.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the witness security program administered by the Department of Justice, focusing on: (1) the results of prosecutions using the testimony of protected witnesses; (2) the nature and extent of criminal activity by protected witnesses; and (3) the potential annual cost of compensating victims of crimes committed by protected witnesses.

GAO found that: (1) the testimony of protected witnesses was most often used in cases involving drug offenses or homicide; (2) in cases involving protected witnesses, 75 percent of the defendants were convicted and 84 percent of those convicted were sent to prison, and the median term for those sent to prison was 4.4 years; and (3) 88 percent of the prime target defendants in cases involving protected witnesses were convicted and received a median prison sentence of 11.2 years. GAO also found that 21.4 percent of the witnesses it examined for recidivism were arrested within 2 years of entering the witness security program, but could not determine how many arrests of protected witnesses led to convictions. In addition, GAO estimated that a program to compensate victims of crimes committed by protected witnesses would cost, at most, $2.3 million annually. However, GAO noted that its estimate did not consider that: (1) under proposed victim compensation legislation, victims would be required to seek compensation under state compensation programs before applying for federal compensation; and (2) not all victims would be eligible for compensation. These two factors would decrease the cost of a federal victim compensation program.

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