At a time when the White House and Congress debate solutions for the country’s mounting debt, the Department of Justice is preparing to dole out millions for a taxpayer-subsidized program that puts violent criminals, like Chandra Levy’s killer, on the streets of American cities.

States and localities have until mid-July to seek federal funding as part of the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. The Department of Justice is expected to award an estimated $3.5 million this year.

The program was created in the 1960s to assist state and local governments with a variety of criminal justice activities, including pretrial release for nonviolent criminals. But like many other troubled government programs, it began to evolve over time and today gives even violent criminals a get-out-jail-free card.

The grants provided by the Department of Justice are routinely used by the more than 300 pretrial release programs across the country. They often require an alleged criminal to put up little or no money before securing release from jail before trial.

The programs also compete with private bail bond agencies, which, research has shown, are more effective than pretrial release programs. A study by Eric Helland and Alexander Tabarrok, “The Fugitive: Evidence on Public Versus Private Law Enforcement From Bail Jumping,” shows that individuals who post bail with a private-sector agency are 28 percent less likely to fail to appear before court.

Heritage’s David Muhlhausen documented the problems with the program during the stimulus debate when liberals wanted to boost spending on it.

“We have repeat, violent and hardened criminals that we the taxpayers are turning out on the street — and in an alarming number of cases they go on to commit additional crimes,” said Dennis Bartlett, director of the American Bail Coalition. “In fact, many crimes taking place in our communities today are committed by people that we the taxpayers have released from jail through these programs. Among them is Ingmar Gandique, who after being released through taxpayer funded pretrial release, killed Capitol Hill intern Chandra Levy in 2001.“

Tomorrow at The Bloggers Briefing, a weekly meeting held at Heritage, we’ll talk about the public policy implications of the program. You can tune in at noon Tuesday on or listen live at BlogTalkRadio.

Meanwhile, Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Dan Boren (D-OK), have introduced legislation to provide accountability for how taxpayer money is being spent. Their bill would require any pretrial release program receiving federal funding to investigate and collect more information on defendants before they are released from jail.