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A Week to Honor Our Public Safety Heroes
May 17, 2013 Posted by

During National Police Week, the Justice Department participated in events across the country to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect and serve.

On Monday evening, Attorney General Eric Holder spoke at the 25th Annual National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Candlelight Vigil in Washington, D.C.  He said that last year witnessed the fewest line-of-duty deaths since the 1950s, but that a single act of violence against a law enforcement officer is one too many.  Attorney General Holder further noted:

“Especially this evening – as we gather in this place of honor, on this hallowed ground, to mark the 25th Annual Candlelight Vigil – I want to assure you that the courage, the fidelity and the heroic final actions of our fallen officers will never be forgotten.  Every day – in cities, rural areas and tribal communities across the country – these individuals stood on the front lines of our nation’s fight against crime and violence.  Each faced uncertain dangers, and a diverse array of threats, every time they put on their badge and uniform.”

On Wednesday, Attorney General Holder and Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs Mary Lou Leary announced several improvements to modernize and streamline the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program.  Attorney General Holder stated:

“These fundamental improvements to the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program will help us cut through red tape – and ensure that fallen or injured officers and their families can get the benefits they need in a timely manner.  These improvements are representative of the value that I, the women and men of the Justice Department, and our entire country, must always place on the work of our law enforcement officers. And, it’s emblematic of our commitment to standing with all who bravely serve our nation, especially in the toughest of times.”

U.S. Attorneys across the country also commemorated Police Week in their districts.  U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz recently recognized 152 officials from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies for exceptional service at the U.S. Attorney’s annual Law Enforcement Public Service Awards Ceremony.  The event followed just weeks after the death of MIT police officer Sean Collier, who was shot and killed on April 18th just days after the Boston Marathon bombings.

During the event, U.S. Attorney Ortiz praised law enforcement personnel and their accomplishments and recognized the demands placed upon them, saying:

“This work can be difficult, and at times, it may seem thankless.  Please know that your efforts do not go unnoticed. What you have sacrificed – your personal safety, your precious time with your families – it is truly appreciated by our office, your agencies and the communities for which you have dedicated your esteemed service.”

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York William J. Hochul Jr. spoke at the Police Memorial Service at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Buffalo honoring 94 federal, state and local officers killed in the line of duty and at a monument dedication ceremony in Clarence, N.Y. in memory of New York State Trooper Kevin Dobson who was killed in the line of duty in 2011.   

Other U.S. Attorneys and their staff attended memorial services, parades, wreath laying and other special events commemorating Police Week in Los Angeles, Jackson, Miss., Cleveland and Dayton, Ohio, Providence, R.I., Knoxville, Tenn., Dallas, Charleston, W.V., among others across the country.

Also during Police Week, the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office held an open house in the Capitol Visitors Center for visiting law enforcement officers who wanted to learn more about the agency’s 2013 programs and resources.  COPS staff was on hand to discuss federal funding opportunities, including the COPS Hiring Program, a competitive grant program focused on school safety, veteran hiring and homicide and gun violence reduction.  Grant opportunities for the development of community policing strategies and funding for public safety enhancements in tribal jurisdictions were also highlighted.  

Events continue this weekend and throughout the month, to honor those who serve and protect every community across the country. For more information, including a detailed schedule of events for National Police Week 2013, visit www.policeweek.org.

A Message from Attorney General Holder on Yesterday’s Reentry Council Meeting
April 26, 2013 Posted by
Federal Interagency Reentry Council

Attorney General Holder is joined by members of the Federal Interagency Reentry Council.

The following post appears courtesy of Attorney General Eric Holder.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of presiding over the fourth meeting of the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, a government-wide body that has worked – since I convened its first meeting in 2011 – to make communities both safer and stronger by reducing recidivism and addressing related issues.  Through this initiative, representatives of 20 federal agencies are helping people returning from prison rejoin their communities and become productive, law-abiding citizens.  We are working to save taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and indirect costs of incarceration.  And, our work is already yielding promising results.

The discussions that unfolded at yesterday’s meeting reflect not only the firm commitment that each of our agency partners has made to the council’s comprehensive efforts, but also the significant progress we’ve set in motion to support innovative reentry programs across the country.  For example, we heard from Secretary Eric Shinseki about the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) pilot effort to electronically identify inmates who have a history of military service.  Because not all inmates report their military service, the VA assigns outreach specialists to communicate directly with them and let them know about programs for which they are eligible. Over the past year, the VA has also distributed a short video, “Suits: Support for Incarcerated Veterans,” to encourage veterans who have become involved with our criminal justice system to focus on the reentry planning process.  The video and a training module for correctional staff have already been received by 1,150 state and federal prisons, and more than 500 local jails.

In addition, Education Secretary Arne Duncan introduced the council to a new reentry education model, which offers evidence-based approaches to help people leaving prison to successfully transition back into their communities through education and workforce training.  The Department of Education is working closely with the Justice Department, to test this new model, and to implement pilot projects in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Kansas.  Next week, officials from the Department of Education and the Ford Foundation will convene a day-long summit to discuss and advance their efforts to improve educational access in both adult and juvenile correctional facilities, in order to help ensure that these populations are better prepared to successfully reenter their communities.

Beyond these efforts, participants in yesterday’s meeting also discussed a host of other issues – including priority efforts related to health care, employment, housing, children of incarcerated parents and reentry in tribal lands.  We reflected on the significant steps forward that this council has helped to make possible.  And we reaffirmed our shared commitment to fulfilling its important mission and improving reentry outcomes.

Although meeting our shared goals and addressing seemingly-intractable criminal justice challenges will never be easy, thanks to the work of the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, I believe there is good reason for confidence in our ability to build on the promising work that’s underway – and to realize our common vision of safe, thriving communities.

In addition to Secretaries Duncan and Shinseki, attending yesterday’s meeting were Office of National Drug Control Policy Director R. Gil Kerlikowske, Department of Labor Acting Secretary Seth Harris and White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz.   Participants also included senior officials from the Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture and Interior, Office of Management and Budget, Office of Personnel Management, White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, Small Business Administration, Social Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service, Federal Trade Commission and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

For more information about the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, please visit: www.nationalreentryresourcecenter.org/reentry-council.

For more information on the VA program, please visit: www.va.gov.

For additional resources available through the Education Department’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education’s Take Charge of Your Future, please visit www.ed.gov.

Attorney General Holder Launches Task Force to Improve Responses to Violence Against Children in Tribal Communities
April 17, 2013 Posted by

On Friday, Attorney General Holder outlined the initial steps to implement the recommendations of the department’s Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, part of the Defending Childhood Initiative. Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West, Attorney General Eric Holder, OJJDP Administrator Robert Listenbee Jr., and Senior Juvenile Justice Policy and Legal Advisor Kathi Grasso

The Attorney General announced that Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West will oversee the creation of an American Indian/Alaska Native Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence. The announcement was made at the new tribal task force during a quarterly meeting of the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which is administered by the Office of Justice Programs’ (OJP) Office on Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention.

The proposed task force will be a joint effort between the Departments of Justice and Interior and tribal governments. The task force will focus on:

  • Improving the identification and treatment of American Indian and Alaska Native children exposed to violence;
  • Supporting American Indian and Alaska Native communities and tribes as they define their own responses to this problem; and
  • Involving American Indian and Alaska Native youth in developing solutions.

The creation of the American Indian/Alaska Native Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence was one of 56 recommendations made by the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence. The National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence presented its final report and recommendations to Attorney General Holder in December 2012. The recommendations called for universal identification, assessment and treatment of children who witness or are victims of violence. They also called for training for professionals who work with children to identify and respond to trauma caused by violence.

The Justice Department will provide additional details on the implementation of the recommendations in the coming months. These efforts will build on the task force’s call to support and train professionals working with children, raise public awareness, build knowledge and increase department and federal coordination and capacity.

OJP provides federal leadership in developing the nation’s capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice and assist victims. OJP has six components: the Bureau of Justice Assistance; the Bureau of Justice Statistics; the National Institute of Justice; the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; the Office for Victims of Crime; and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking.

Follow the Office of Justice Programs on Twitter at http://twitter.com/OJPgov.

A Message from the Attorney General on the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail
April 16, 2013 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of Attorney General Eric Holder.

Fifty years ago today, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sat in the Birmingham City Jail, having been arrested four days earlier for participating in a local civil rights march without a permit.  There in his cell, on scraps of newsprint, he began to draft what became one of the most important documents of the Civil Rights era.

In that famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King wrote that, “all communities and states” are interrelated.  He declared that “[i]njustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  And he implored his fellow citizens to move with “a sense of great urgency” to help build the brighter future that everyone in this country deserves.

Dr. King’s letter was a rebuke to those who cautioned civil rights advocates merely to “wait” for their constitutional rights to be protected, rather than standing up and speaking out to help secure those rights.  It served as a resounding call for Americans from all backgrounds and walks of life to continue the march towards equality and opportunity for all.  And it reaffirmed the values that were at the root of Dr. King’s actions and at the core of his life: tolerance, compassion, non-violence – and, above all, justice.

Despite the adversity that surrounded him – and the darkness of his narrow jail cell – Dr. King was confident in our nation’s greatness.  He was proud of what this country had always stood for – and optimistic about what he knew it could become.  That’s why his vision – and his inspiring words – continue to guide our steps forward even today.

For me, and for my colleagues at every level of the U.S. Department of Justice, the fundamental ideal that energized Dr. King – that justice is the right of all – lies at the center of our daily efforts to protect the American people from terrorism and other national security threats – including cowardly acts like the one we witnessed in Boston yesterday afternoon; to combat violent crime; to eradicate financial fraud; to safeguard the most vulnerable members of society; and to uphold the sacred civil rights to which everyone in this country is entitled.  This ideal also shapes our work to reform America’s criminal justice systems – and to ensure that the mechanisms of these systems promote public safety, deterrence, efficiency and fairness.  And it drives our efforts to close the so-called “justice gap” – by working with organizations like the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) to expand access to civil legal aid for those who need it.

This afternoon, I was proud to join Vice President Biden, Valerie Jarrett, LSC leaders, jurists, educators and members of the private bar at the White House in order to discuss the challenges we face in expanding legal assistance.  The unfortunate reality is that – even today – tens of millions of Americans cannot afford the assistance they need to avail themselves of their rights before our court system.  Studies have shown that, for every eligible person seeking help from a legal aid program, another eligible person is turned away.  And, for all the remarkable, once-unimaginable progress we’ve witnessed since Dr. King’s time – more than 80 percent of civil legal needs faced by low-income individuals continue to go unmet.

As Attorney General, I’ve made expanding access to legal services a major focus for the Department of Justice.  Three years ago, I established a new office known as the Access to Justice Initiative to help spearhead national efforts to ensure that basic legal services are available, affordable and accessible for everyone in this country – regardless of status or income.  Last year, in cooperation with the White House Domestic Policy Council – the Justice Department helped launch an interagency roundtable, bringing together 17 agencies to raise awareness about the impact that civil legal aid can have in promoting access to health and housing, education and employment, family stability and community well-being.  The Department’s Office of Justice Programs is providing support for partnerships that educate, train, and equip lawyers to provide civil legal assistance.  Through events like today’s White House forum, and initiatives like the federal government’s Pro Bono Program, we’re encouraging professionals throughout our nation’s legal community to use their skills and training not simply to make a living, but to make a difference.

As we continue these and other efforts, I believe there’s good reason for confidence in our ability to overcome the obstacles before us – and to help realize Dr. King’s vision for a more just society.  I’m optimistic about what we can accomplish – so long as we remain committed to working together.  And I look forward to all that we must, and will, achieve together in the months and years to come.

In Gideon’s Footsteps: The Ongoing Pursuit of Equal Justice for All
March 21, 2013 Posted by

 

Attorney General Eric Holder, Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan and Former Vice President Walter Mondale discuss the legacy of the Gideon v. Wainright case during a panel discussion at The Department of Justice.

Attorney General Eric Holder, Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan and Former Vice President Walter Mondale discuss the legacy of the Gideon v. Wainright case during a panel discussion at The Department of Justice.

Fifty years ago, this week, the Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainwright - a decisioin that would forever change the criminal justice system of the United States.

In June of 1961, Clarence Earl Gideon  was charged with breaking and entering with the intention of petty theft at the Bay Harbor Pool Room in Panama City, Florida.  Unable to afford representation, Gideon petitioned the State of Florida for appointed counsel, but his request was denied.  He was forced to provide his own defense and Gideon was found guilty. He appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.  Denied, but undeterred, he wrote – in pencil and on prison stationary – another petition, this time to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In June of 1962, the Supreme Court granted Gideon’s petition.  The following year on March, 18 1963, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Gideon’s favor. The Supreme Court’s decision affirmed that every  defendant charged with a serious crime has the constitutional right to counsel, re gardless of his or her financial resources. The case marked a momentous step in the United States’ pursuit of equality in the justice system. 

The Department of Justice was pleased to host a commemorative event for the 50th Anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright. Attorney General Eric Holder spoke passionately about the legacy of Gideon. He was then joined by former Vice President Walter Mondale and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan for a panel discussion on the topic.

Attorney General Eric Holder paid homage to the landmark decision and recogned its continued impact, as he noted the event served as a reminder of the work that remains unfinished:

“…Despite half a century of progress – even today, in 2013, far too many Americans struggle to gain access to the legal assistance they need.  And far too many children and adults routinely enter our juvenile and criminal justice systems with little understanding of the rights to which they’re entitled, the charges against them, or the potential sentences they may face.”

The Justice Department is taking action to reduce these instances of inaccessible—or inadequate—legal representation for the citizens most in need.  In fact, Attorney General Holder announced on at the event that the department will offer $1.8 million to the cause of strengthening America’s public defense system.  This comes in addition to the ongoing efforts of the Access to Justice Initiative, established by Attorney General Holder in 2010 to assure that quality legal representation is accessible to even the most vulnerable citizens, and other government and independent organizations with which the Justice Department is coordinating.

Both Attorney General Holder and Acting Senior Counselor for the Access to Justice Initiative Deborah Leff have cautioned on the unfortunate consequences that sequestration, which cut more than $1.6 billion from the Justice Department’s budget, will have on the work to advance Gideon’s cause. Nevertheless, in her speech to the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy Convening, Acting Senior Counselor Leff said:

“…Despite the strains that we are going through and the cutbacks we are making, the Department of Justice is continuing its support for indigent-defense projects, because fulfilling Gideon’s legacy and ensuring the constitutional right to counsel are central to our mission.”

The anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright should inspire all American citizens to reflect upon the significance of a justice system that grants each defendant the right to quality counsel, regardless of their financial circumstances. 

In closing remarks, Attorney General Holder said:

 “In the end, this may be the single most important legacy of Gideon:  that it serves as a reminder of the obligation entrusted to every legal professional – not merely to serve clients or win cases, but to do justice.  It stands as a testament to the fact that the structures and mechanisms of our legal system, far from being etched in stone, remain works in progress.  And it’s a powerful example of how – in this great country – even the humblest hands can help to bend the arc of history just a little further toward justice.”

For more information about the department’s efforts to ensure effective legal assistance for all persons charged with crimes visit justice.gov/atj/gideon.

 

Sunshine Week: In Celebration of Open Government
March 12, 2013 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of Melanie Ann Pustay, Director of the Office of Information Policy at the Department of Justice and Lisa Ellman, Chief Counselor for the Open Government Partnership and Senior Advisor to the Chief Technology Officer at the White House. It originally appeared on The White House blog.

As President Barack Obama has stated, “Openness will strengthen our democracy, and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.” This week, we celebrate Sunshine Week — an appropriate time to discuss the importance of open government and freedom of information, and to take stock of how far we have come, and think about what more can be done.   

In the spirit of Sunshine Week, the White House will highlight one initiative a day which demonstrates the Obama Administration’s continued commitment to open and accessible government. Today, we will focus on progress made improving the administration of the FOIA. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” In our democracy, FOIA, which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open government. 

As President Obama declared in his landmark Memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) issued on his first full day in Office:  “A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency.”  The FOIA – which provides the public with a statutory right to request and receive information from their government – is a key way in which government transparency is realized. 

Over the past four years agencies have been working hard to improve their administration of the FOIA under guidance issued by Attorney General Holder. That guidance directed agencies to apply a presumption of openness in responding to requests and to make it a priority to respond promptly. Both the President and Attorney General stressed that it is also vital for agencies to make information available proactively, without the need to make a request, so that what is “known and done by their Government” is readily available to all. These directives are taking hold across the agencies and real improvements are being made. 

In Fiscal Year 2012, the government as a whole:

  • Processed more FOIA requests:  Agencies processed 665,924 total requests. This is a 5.5 percent increase over the total number of requests processed last fiscal year. 
  • Decreased the FOIA request backlog: The efforts of agencies to increase the numbers of requests processed has paid off as the government was able to reduce its backlog of pending requests by 14 percent from last year.  The current backlog marks a 45 percent reduction from the backlog that existed four years ago in 2008. 
  • Maintained a release rate above 92 percent for the fourth straight year: Of the 464,985 requests processed by agencies for disclosure, the government released records either in full or in part in response to 93.4 percent of these requests.  For half of those requests all the information was released, with nothing withheld.  This marks the fourth year in a row where the number of responses to FOIA requests providing a release of information either in full or in part exceeded 92 percent of the requests processed for disclosure. 
  • Improved average processing times:  Agencies improved the average processing times for all categories of requests. 
  • Disclosed more information proactively:  Agencies met public demand for information by posting a wide range of material on their websites, allowing the public to easily find information of interest without the need to make a FOIA request. 

All of the detailed data on agency FOIA compliance from Fiscal Year 2012 is compiled and displayed graphically on the Department of Justice’s government FOIA website FOIA.gov, providing a clear picture of government FOIA administration and progress during the last fiscal year.

These are more than just statistics. They represent the efforts of agencies across the government to answer the call to improve transparency. They demonstrate that agencies are responding to requests more quickly and releasing more information when they do. Agencies are reducing backlogs of pending requests and helping eliminate the need to even make requests by proactively providing information online.  The public is the beneficiary of this progress. While there is more work to be done, this past year demonstrates that agencies are answering the President’s and Attorney General’s call for greater transparency.

To learn more about the Office of Information Policy visit The FOIA Post - the blog of OIP. For more information about the Freedom of Information Act, visit FOIA.gov.

 
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