Thanks to Hollywood, you know about the witness protection program. But do you know what it really is, or what being in witness protection entails? The United States introduced the witness protection program in the 1970s, and countries all around the world have followed that lead and created their own versions. The primary aim of these systems is to protect witnesses of serious crimes who testify in court, as their lives could be in danger from those who want to stay out of prison or get revenge. Such high stakes means lots of rules, and there are some very odd requirements of the witness protection program that people have to meet in order to qualify.
Safeguarding important people who have testified and giving them anonymity requires a great deal of effort. New identities have to be created, families have to be relocated, and safety checks have to be put in place by government officials. Those in the program also have to abide by a series of weird witness protection rules; even the famous people in the witness protection program have to follow them. Although many of these regulations might seem bizarre, they're put in place for a reason: to save lives.
What do you do in witness protection? You live your life - albeit with a whole new set of circumstances.
After US Marshals pick up witnesses at their homes - and oftentimes their families as well - they are taken to a secret safe house somewhere in Washington DC. However, this isn't just some random undisclosed building, it also has to be able to securely hold up to six families and must be able to withstand potential bomb threats to ensure the safety of newly admitted witnesses.
The issue of children being relocated as part of the witness protection program is a controversial one. In instances where parents are divorced or not together, it can raise problems with access; if the child moves, or one parent is put into protection, then it would make staying in contact incredibly difficult.
The rules state that any parent who has joint custody or visitation rights must agree to a child being relocated - otherwise, they cannot enter the program. Contact is also limited to just 12 visits a year, supervised by marshals.
As the main aim of witness protection is to provide anonymity, marshals have strict rules about what families can take with them while relocating. Anything that could potentially identify them in any way is banned, including toys, letters, diaries, jewelry, and even family photographs.
In one instance, a child couldn't even take a drawing made by a classmate as a goodbye present because it bore his name. Government officials will also stop family pets from moving with their owners.
Many people who go into witness protection have already been incarcerated for other crimes. They often have the most knowledge of organized crime syndicates and can provide the best evidence. In order for any prisoner to be accepted into the witness protection program, though, they have to pass a polygraph test.
This is to ensure that the witness will not try to find out information about other witnesses while involved in the program.