The federal Witness Protection Program is operated by U.S. Marshals, with the goal of providing new identities to individuals who face the possibility of vengeance from organized crime groups like the Mafia, for example, when testifying against them. Groups like these who terrorize communities or are otherwise involved in violent crimes may be a real threat to witnesses. The government understands that government cooperation can be a serious safety concern for witnesses and their families and has been tasked with protecting them since 1971 as part of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970. Since that time, almost 20,000 people have been hidden and protected by the Marshalls, and the feds are proud to say that no person in the program who has adhered to the guidelines has ever been injured or killed by an adversary. Even so, entry into the program is factually a mammoth disruption to life. What do you need to know about it?
What to Know About Witness Protection
- The U.S. Attorney, the U.S. Marshals, and the Department of Enforcement Operations Eligibility must successfully vet and sponsor anyone entering Witness Protection.
- Mental and physical testing is required of individuals prior to entering the program.
- Appropriate jobs in the new location are determined through extensive skills testing.
- New surnames are provided, although first names may remain the same.
- Documentation, including new social security numbers, birth certificates, and driver’s licenses that support new identities, is provided.
- The school records for minor children will be amended.
- Although plastic surgery was offered prior to 1990, it is no longer part of the program.
- Witnesses are provided with financial assistance for about six months in order to have time to develop self-sufficiency.
- Furnished homes in neighborhoods with schools and churches will be provided.
- After witnesses are asked where they would like to go, they are sent anywhere else so that no one can anticipate the move, although an effort is made to place them in an area in which they would be comfortable.
- Witnesses may make phone calls to loved ones left behind on a secure line and are allowed to write letters through a secure system (although letters must be destroyed after being read).
- Witnesses generally are contacted by the Marshals about once per year to make sure things are going satisfactorily.
- Even if they get married later, people in the program can NEVER reveal their history.
- When they leave, witnesses are not allowed to tell people where they are going. They must simply just disappear from their lives.
- About 90% of witnesses in the program have a history of criminal activity themselves.