AMU Law Enforcement Original Public Safety

The Witness Protection Program: Realities and Requirements

The Witness Protection Program, also known as the Witness Security Program, provides safety for people who serve as government witnesses and their family members when these witnesses’ lives are in danger from criminals. This program is managed by the U.S. Marshals Service.

Who Can Go into the Witness Protection Program?

People in the Witness Protection Program typically provide court testimony.

According to the U.S. Marshals Service, the Witness Protection Program was authorized by the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970. Ever since the program began, federal marshals have protected and provided new identities to over 19,000 witnesses and their families. Some states offer similar witness protection programs.

Once someone has agreed to testify against drug traffickers, terrorists, and organized crime bosses, especially in high-profile cases, they and their families often become a target. The danger to these witnesses is permanent; the danger continues to exist throughout their lives.

As a result, federal marshals provide the opportunity for these witnesses to have new identities and lives. People in the Witness Protection Program are typically given new names and a backstory to tell others and avoid discovery. In addition to providing 24-hour security, the U.S. Marshals Service provides funding for basic living expenses, medical care, job training and employment assistance.

This program has been very successful. The U.S. Marshals Service reports that no one who has participated in the Witness Protection Program has been harmed or killed while under federal marshal protection, providing that person and their families follow the program’s guidelines.

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The Witness Protection Program Has a Low Recidivism Rate

People can remain in the Witness Protection Program for their entire lives as long as they don’t commit a crime. According to United States Now, there is a 17% recidivism rate for witnesses in this program.

This high recidivism rate is not surprising, however. The A&E Network notes that many of the people who are eligible for the Witness Protection Program are former members of a mob, gang, cartel, or terrorist organization. Often, they have agreed to testify against other criminals in return for reduced jail sentences or acquittals.

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Challenges of the Program

According to United States Now, people in the Witness Protection Program face certain challenges. For instance, they are prohibited from returning to their hometown. Also, they are not permitted to have any contact with their former friends or acquaintances.

People in the Witness Protection Program make a significant sacrifice; they must give up their entire identity and lives to participate in the program. Not doing so, however, could result in their injury or death, so people eligible for the Witness Protection Program must weigh the permanent threat to their lives against the loss of their identity.

Entering the Witness Protection Program is a difficult decision. While it provides the security that may be necessary to keep you alive, it requires significant and permanent changes to your life.

There is also the ongoing threat to the life of a witness in the program. Despite the high success rate for those who follow the rules in the Witness Protection Program, a risk always exists for these witnesses as criminals may hire people who spend years trying to find and kill them.

Jarrod Sadulski

Dr. Sadulski is an Associate Professor within our School of Security and Global Studies. He has over two decades in the field of criminal justice. His expertise includes training on countering human trafficking, maritime security, effective stress management in policing and narcotics trafficking trends in Latin America. Jarrod frequently conducts in-country research and consultant work in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in narcotics trafficking. He also has a background in business development. Jarrod can be reached through his website at for more information.

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