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The United States Federal Witness Protection Program 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.
In the United States, the witness Protection Program (also known as the Witness Security Program, or WITSEC) 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.
The first such breach in the history of the program occurred in 2009. 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.