Federal Grants Overview

The NCJA advocates for effective criminal justice policy and funding for justice assistance programs.

Legislating and Funding Federal Grant Programs

With few exceptions, criminal justice legislation is under the jurisdiction of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. Funding for the justice assistance grant programs is under the jurisdiction of the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) subcommittees of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. However, before the Department of Justice can make a single dollar available in grants, Congress must pass an appropriations bill and the President must sign it into law. While the power over appropriations is granted to Congress by the U.S. Constitution, the authorization-appropriation process is derived from House and Senate rules. Learn more about the appropriations process.

Types of OJP Grants

The Office of Justice Programs (OJP) awards two types of grants: discretionary and formula. (Current federal funding opportunities can be found on the Grants.Gov website).

Discretionary grants are awarded directly by OJP to eligible recipients and are most often awarded on a competitive basis. Some discretionary grants to organization may be awarded on a non-competitive basis, often based on congressional direction. OJP may award funds under its discretionary grant programs to some or all of the following types of recipients, depending on authorizing legislation and selected program strategies: states, units of local government, Indian tribes and tribal organizations, individuals, educational institutions, hospitals, and private nonprofit and private commercial organizations. Therefore, SAAs may also receive discretionary grants from time to time, depending on the eligibility criteria developed by the program offices. States may be pre-selected or compete for discretionary grant funds.

The bulk of OJP funding comes from formula-based grant funds (also known as block grants). These are awarded directly by OJP to eligible recipients as authorized by statute. For formula and/or block grant programs, statutes or appropriations acts specify how the funds will be allocated among the eligible recipients, as well as the method by which an applicant must demonstrate its eligibility for that funding. Examples of this type of grant at OJP are the OJJDP Juvenile Accountability Block Grants Program and the OVC VOCA Victim Compensation Formula Grants. Generally, States, territories, and sometimes Indian tribes and local units of government are eligible for awards under OJP’s various block and formula grant programs. Specific eligibility criteria for each program is set forth in the program’s governing statute and rules.

The award amount is calculated by a formula, and may vary among programs. Award calculations can consider such factors as population, census data, juvenile offender population, and Part 1 violent crimes reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Formula grant programs can be either for a specific purpose (assisting juvenile offenders, for example) or related to public safety in general. The dollar amount available to applicants under each program is included in the solicitation. The specific recipient for state formula programs should be designated by each state. For state formula programs, OJP maintains a list of the designated agencies authorized by each state to administer the programs. Most OJP formula grant programs provide funding to state agencies, which may, in turn, subgrant funds to support relevant projects of local governments and private agencies.

Funding from OJP is available through its five program offices: 1) Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), (2) the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), (3) the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), (4) the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), and (5) the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). Monies awarded by these offices are administered separately; each has its own funding requirements, funds accountability, and focus. We will describe the grant programs administered by each office, explain how formula moneys are allocated, and introduce the OJP grants information and application process.

OJP Grants Resources

State Funding

Of course, a state agency also may administer state-initiated funding streams and programs. Information about these programs may be found on a state’s funding web page. The process by which the state administrating agency receives and administers state-initiated funding streams and programs may vary from state to state; however, it is important to know of these programs, both in context of specific actions needed to acquire the funds and how those state-initiated programs relate to federal programs in planning for closing state and local criminal and juvenile justice gaps.