You've Heard Of The Witness Protection Program, But How Does It Actually Work?

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Nearly everyone has heard of the Witness Protection Program (it's the setting for about a dozen classic movies!) but very few people actually understand it. What happens once you join? How do you get assigned a new identity? Can you ever return to your old existence?

Before you start fantasizing about escaping your current life and becoming someone else, know this: Witness Protection, otherwise known as the Witness Security Program (WITSEC), is not a fun club that you'd voluntarily join. It began in 1971 as a creation of the Organized Crime Control Act. Families are usually given a few relocation options, and the chosen location is only disclosed to a select few people. WITSEC families are given new names and expected never to reveal their old identity, even to new spouses. They're sometimes expected to leave their old lives behind in an instant, and are put up in hotel rooms until suitable housing is found. They're also given a stipend until the adults find work, which is expected to take about six months. Oftentimes, the decision comes down to either leaving your family, friends, belongings, and homes, or retain your identity and risk losing your life.

But, we should note that there's good reason for this: WITSEC has helped over 18,000 federal witnesses since it's inception, and, according to the AP, criminal cases involving protected witnesses have an 89 percent conviction rate.

What Really Happens When Someone Enters the Witness Protection Program?

It's not a program anyone would be eager join, trust us.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. The Witness Protection Program (WITSEC) has successfully protected more than 18,000 people since it began in 1971. 00:19

  2. Families relocated by the Witness Protection Program are given stipends for housing and other expenses until the adults have found the means of supporting themselves. 01:47

  3. Legally sealed name changes, new social security numbers and cards, new birth certificates, and new drivers licenses are all routinely issued for people in the Witness Protection Program. 03:16

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