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The United States Federal Witness Protection Program, also known as the Witness Security Program or WITSEC, is a witness protection program administered by the United States Department of Justice and operated by the United States Marshals Service that is designed to protect threatened witnesses before, during, and after a trial.
A few states, including California, Illinois, New York, and Texas, have their own witness protection programs for crimes not covered by the federal program. The state-run programs provide less extensive protections than the federal program.
Witnesses and their families typically get new identities with authentic documentation. The Witness Protection Program has never had a breach of security in which a protected person or family member was harmed. As of 2013, 8,500 witnesses and 9,900 family members have been protected by the U.S. Marshals Service since 1971. According to Gerald Shur, who created the federal program, about "95% of [witnesses in the program] are ... criminals."
The program's operations are kept secret, but a few facts are revealed by the Department of Justice. Witnesses are given 24-hour-a-day security while in a high-threat environment. Money for housing, essentials, and medical care is provided to witnesses. WITSEC also provides job training and employment assistance.
A witness who agrees to testify for the prosecution is generally eligible to join the program. The program is entirely voluntary. Witnesses are permitted to leave the program and return to their original identities at any time, but this is always discouraged by administrators.
The WITSEC program was established under Title V of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, which in turn sets out the manner in which the United States Attorney General may provide for the relocation and protection of a witness or potential witness of the federal or state government in an official proceeding concerning organized crime or other serious offenses. See 18 U.S.C.A 3521, et. seq.
The Federal Government also gives grants to the states to enable them to provide similar services. The federal program is called WITSEC (the Federal Witness Protection Program) and was founded in the late 1960s by Gerald Shur when he was in the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section of the United States Department of Justice. Most witnesses are protected by the United States Marshals Service, while protection of incarcerated witnesses is the duty of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Former decorated federal law enforcement officer John Thomas Ambrose was convicted of leaking information about a federal witness in the Witness Protection Program, Chicago Outfit hitman Nicholas Calabrese, to other members of Chicago organized crime.
Witnesses and their families typically get new identities with authentic documentation. Housing, subsistence for basic living expenses and medical care are provided to the witnesses. Job training and employment assistance may also be provided. The U.S. Marshals provide 24-hour protection to all witnesses while they are in a high-threat environment including pretrial conferences, trial testimonials, and other court appearances. In both criminal and civil matters involving protected witnesses, the U.S. Marshals cooperate fully with local law enforcement and court authorities to bring witnesses to justice or to have them fulfill their legal responsibilities.
Around 17 percent of protected witnesses who have committed a crime will be caught committing another crime, compared to the almost 41 percent of parolees who return to crime.