How Witness Protection Works

Living the New Life

One of the key objectives of the Witness Security Program is to help witnesses assimilate into their new communities and become self-sufficient. Among o­ther things, this requires assistance with securing employment. However, from the beginning of the program, there has been some concern that the government could be helping witnesses too much. Keep in mind that many witnesses are former criminals themselves.

To ensure witnesses don't get too much of a leg up in their new lives, local law enforcement is informed of a witness's location. Further, protected witnesses are expected to find employment and become self-sufficient as soon as possible. The Marshals Service will assist witnesses with finding employment -- however, if a witness fails to aggressively seek employment, subsistence payments will be terminated. At that point, the relocated witness can enroll in public assistance if he or she chooses.

The most important rule of the program is that witnesses must not make contact with former associates or unprotected family members. They also must not return to the town from which they were relocated. According to the Marshals Service, no witness who has followed these rules has ever been killed. (See Newsweek: The New Face of Witness Protection to read about a case of someone who did not follow the rules.)

Once assimilated into their community, contact with the government is only required once per year. Witnesses also need to make contact with the government if they move. Any other contact with witnesses must be requested through the OEO or Marshals Service.