Murray Presses Attorney General for Federal Support of Border Prosecutions in Washington State

May 24 2005

Senator advocates for Whatcom County; asks for more resources for WA state courts, jails

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) today questioned U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on the need for increased federal support for prosecution of criminals apprehended along the Northern U.S. border in Washington state.

In a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee, Murray pressed Gonzales to acknowledge the threat to national security posed by crowded and strapped county jails and courts. She has strongly advocated for greater security along the Northern Border both before and since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"We're doing a great job of helping our law enforcement personnel to catch criminals at our borders and in our communities. But once they've done their job, we need to target more federal resources to successfully prosecuting those criminals," Murray said.

Despite increased efforts to catch criminals along our borders since 9/11, prosecutorial resources have not kept pace. This is especially true along the Northern Border.

In her questioning of Gonzales, Murray emphasized three specific areas where greater federal support of prosecutorial efforts is needed in Washington state.

Whatcom County:

Murray called for reimbursement of counties like Whatcom that incur heavy costs each year for detainment, prosecution, defense, and court costs for criminals apprehended at the border.

As a member of the Senate Transportation, Treasury, and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, Murray secured $1 million for fiscal year 2005 to offset such costs in Whatcom County.

"Whatcom County, where I-5 crosses into British Columbia, is spending over $2 million per year to handle these federally initiated, declined and referred cases," Murray said. "These costs, when combined with resource limitations, are placing an incredible strain on local jurisdictions."

Murray also cited the Southwest Border Prosecution Initiative, a program under which counties along the Southwest border are reimbursed for costs related to prosecution of border criminals. Murray insisted that such a program should exist for counties along the Northern border, particularly because these localities have already had to release non-border-related criminals due to overcrowded jails and insufficient court infrastructure.

U.S. Attorney General’s office in Seattle:

Murray called for greater support of the U.S. Attorney General's office in Seattle. Currently, because this office lacks sufficient resources and cannot prosecute many of the criminals apprehended along the Northern border, cases are referred to localities, putting an even greater burden on them and also forcing release of non-border-related criminals.

Regional Justice Centers:

Murray also pushed for federal funding to increase federal court infrastructure in Washington state to keep up with increased apprehension of criminals. At present, Washington state lacks adequate courts and jails to prosecute criminals caught under tightened post-9/11 enforcement policies. The state is spending large amounts of money to drive criminals, under guard, to hearings in far-flung parts of the state. According to Murray, funding regional justice centers would save the state money and would greatly improve prosecution efforts.

"We do not want to be placed in a situation where criminals in our state are being released because our jails are full and because our court system does not have the resources to prosecute them," Murray said. "We have to understand and address the seriousness of the threat this situation poses to national security and to the safety of our communities."